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COLUMN: Delta Police Department sees increase in mental health-related calls

DPD Chief Neil Dubord says more resources are needed to address the cause of the problem rather than the consequences.
Delta Police Chief Neil Dubord

A famous fable talks of a villager that saw a baby floating down the river. She realized that there are other babies floating by, crying. As other villagers began to notice more babies, they jumped into the river to save them.

Over time, great effort and resources were put into saving the babies. Watchtowers were built, ziplines with baskets were set up and swimmers were coordinated to rescue the innocent little lives. The number of babies continued to increase and the village built an orphanage to care for and house the babies.

Then one day a villager left his post and began to walk upstream. The others asked where he was going as he needed to keep watch for more babies. His reply was simple – he was going upstream to stop whoever was throwing the babies into the river.

As a police officer, I believe problem solving and prevention are the best public safety strategies; police are always proud of “catching the bad guy,” but I am most proud when we don’t even allow the bad guy into Delta.

In a different vein, in a review of our 2016 statistics, we saw an almost 20 per cent increase in mental-health related calls for service that are specifically dealt with by our mental health officer; this does not account for the service calls at the patrol level.

The DPD puts extraordinary effort into helping individuals suffering from mental health issues in our community. The Delta Police mental health officer has been an authorized position for nearly 10 years and dealt with over 1,000 contacts in 2016. The officer works with Fraser Health and other social service providers in an effort to offer support and develop solutions for those in need.

For years, police and other stakeholders have been calling for additional resources – more acute care and long term beds, more addiction treatment facilities, more emergency room capacity – yet we do not seem to be improving our statistics. And those statistics are people who are suffering. They are families who are struggling to support their loved ones. They are a quality of life issue.

We see the faces of the mentally ill in our community; our officers know many of them by name and come to know them as individuals. We keep jumping into the river to save them.

The Corporation of Delta and the Delta Police Board continue to support our work with additional police resources to manage the problem. We invest in training for police in crisis de-escalation to ensure that nobody gets hurt. We keep adding more resources to deal with the problem, but what we really need is to add more resources to the solution.

Every frontline worker involved in dealing with mental health issues in our community is to be commended for their dedication and commitment to helping improve the quality of life for those suffering from mental illness. When I see the increases in calls for service, it saddens me for those people who work every day to make things better.

We will continue to work hard to help people suffering from mental illness, but to make any meaningful difference, we need to look upstream.

Neil Dubord is the Delta Police Department’s chief constable. He joined the DPD on June 29, 2015 after three years as chief of the Metro Vancouver Transit Police and 25 years with the Edmonton Police Service where he was the Deputy Chief in charge of Community Policing Bureau.