A project that pairs mental health professionals with police to help people in crisis will be expanded thanks to more than $400,000 in funding from the provincial government. 

The investment comes after the project, which started as a pilot in 2021, met with success. About 82 per cent of 882 incidents were resolved through the Alternative Response to Citizens in Crisis (ARCC) program.

“People are getting the appropriate, person-centered and co-ordinated response they need in the community,” Erika Hunzinger, Winnipeg’s Crisis Response Centre manager, said during a news conference announcing the funding on Friday.

The $414,000 investment means ARCC, which started as a pilot between the Winnipeg Police Service and Shared Health’s Crisis Response Centre, will go from five days a week to seven days and transition from a pilot to an ongoing mental health intervention response.

The program pairs mental health professionals with plainclothes police officers and sends them to non-criminal, non-emergent crisis situations.

It provides supports to individuals experiencing suicidal ideation, postpartum depression, psycho-social crisis and behavioural concerns that don’t pose a safety risk to others, Mental Health Minister Janice Morely-Lecomte said.

Chris Summerville, CEO of Schizophrenia Society of Canada, said having a mental health professional present can de-escalate situations.

“Sometimes just having someone who comes alongside and listens and knows how to listen” makes a difference, he said.

It can also be less traumatic for the person in a mental health crisis and for friends or family members, Summerville added.

“The results are so positive and very stirring actually.”

Emergency resources

Morely-Lecomte said the program offers crucial assistance and helps ensure emergency services are used efficiently.

“Non-criminal and non-urgent mental-health related dispatch calls for the police service continue to rise in Winnipeg,” Morely-Lecomte said. “Emergency situations can be traumatic for individuals and can result in an unnecessary trip to an emergency department, adding to patient volumes and tying up police resources for multiple hours.” 

During the pilot period, ARCC was involved in 882 police events involving 530 individuals, Morley-Lecomte said. And in 91 per cent of cases, individuals involved in the program were able to remain in the community while receiving care. 

A statement from Shared Health said there was a 29 per cent reduction in police presentations to hospital emergency departments for mental health-related issues, from 1,005 in 2021 to 714 in 2022.

Morley-Lecomte said the initiative will contribute to the province’s commitment to a co-ordinated strategy for suicide prevention. 

“Increasing access to mental health supports and services to individuals in crisis is integral to my department’s plan moving forward,” Morley-Lemcote said.

Hunzinger said ARCC has made the use of health and police resources more efficient while also helping individuals in crisis. 


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