Woodstock police designate officer to handle mental health calls, training

In a bid to address rising mental health-related issues in Woodstock, the city's police service has created a designated officer to offer training and respond to calls involving people in crisis or suffering from mental illness.

Woodstock police recently created a community engagement officer in response to an increasing number of calls related to mental health and people in crisis.

“We had officers responding with our mental health engagement and response team, and we found that there wasn't as much of a rapport built between people in crisis, so we decided to implement one officer responsible for the day-to-day activities to deal with people in crisis or experiencing homelessness, addictions and also mental health issues,” police Chief Rod Wilkinson said Monday.

In addition to a growing number of people experiencing homelessness, the police service has noticed a rise in calls relating to mental health, particularly during the pandemic.

Woodstock police received 915 mental health calls in 2020, up from 889 calls in 2019 and 711 the year prior, said Wilkinson, citing the most recent figures available.

The hope, he said, is that the new position will alleviate many of the repeat calls for service.

Working under the community response unit, the designated officer will work closely with the mental health engagement and response team and other community partners.

“We have a number of mental health workers, so that officer could be working with different workers each day,” Wilkinson said.

“What’s good about is when officers are dealing with people on the street, someone in crisis, they get to know the people they’re dealing with and can check in on them daily."

The community officer, Const. Jamie Savage, also will deliver crisis intervention training to the members of Woodstock police service and provide support and outreach to people experiencing a crisis in the community.

Savage, who joined the force in August 2021, has “extensive” experience working in similar roles with Brantford police, Wilkinson said.

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Calvi Leon, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press