On November 18, the West Nipissing Police Services Board (WNPSB) met for the first time since May, the first time in the new OPP detachment boardroom, and the first time face-to-face since COVID restrictions were put into place. The boardroom at the detachment was large enough to accommodate the nine attendees with social distancing. The agenda was limited for this meeting as the board members undertook 2 hours of training with Tom Gervais, Police Services Advisor with the Ministry of the Solicitor General. The WNPSB now has a full complement, with provincial appointees Dan Gagné and Rachelle Laflèche joining municipal appointees Roch St-Louis, Christopher Fisher and Denis Sénécal (absent).
Top of the agenda for the board was approving an application for a Community Safety and Police Grant, due this January. Inspector Mike Maville, Detachment Commander, told the board that West Nipissing was successful in the last round of funding from 2019-2021, and he was hoping to get funds for the next cycle. He was optimistic, “Provided we use the money for a few key areas: human trafficking, guns and gangs, mental health, opioids, addictions.” Maville told the board that funding could be used to augment special constables, and possibly the addition of a Community Safety Officer (CSO). His priority would be to add a mental health liaison officer to work in conjunction with a mental health nurse. The topic has come up before but, explained Maville, there was no room at the temporary facility to house the extra staff. Now, with the new detachment fully operational and plenty of room available, plans to fulfill that objective could be formalized.
Insp. Maville cited the program in North Bay as a good model. “The North Bay detachment has what I call the Rolls Royce model…They have an officer assigned straight days or whatever the shifts are. He comes off the road so his primary focus is working with the mental health nurse, supplied in North Bay through CMHA – they are both embedded in the detachment… They get a call for service, they go together in a cruiser, they deal with it, the nurse handles the crisis and is protected by the officer, we transport them to the hospital. The nurse takes care of … any logistical things at the hospital.”
The inspector has indicated many times that policing and mental health are two separate professions, and it doesn’t make sense to have an officer tied up at a hospital when a mental health nurse is the appropriate person to handle those situations. “It’s been massively successful in North Bay, and was already something we were working on in the background. (…) It’s a smarter way of looking at policing… Why are police attending when people are in mental health crisis?” Maville added that West Nipissing has been taking advantage of the North Bay OPP service, but “[North Bay] detachment had 50 mental health calls in 2020. West Nipissing outpaced them by four [calls]… This location in WN is getting more mental health calls than other detachments.”
Acting Staff Sergeant Franco Pittui, who was temporarily replacing Inspector Ray St-Pierre and normally works in the North Bay detachment, described the service. “It’s so advantageous. When we have a call that comes in… the nurse is protected; we have a vest for the nurse that she is clearly identified as a nurse.” He added that they also make more referrals, which are normally beyond the police officer’s capabilities. Maville corroborated him, saying, “In a mental health crisis people go to the police as a natural… We’re not really good at these things. Putting someone in jail is not going to help their addiction. You can be arrested 40 times and it’s not going to help with your addiction or any underlying issues. We can keep the person safe, but bring along a person who knows what they are doing.”
Board member Roch St-Louis agreed, saying “The inspector hit it on the nose — you can arrest them all you want; they are not getting treatment.” Maville also noted that the OPP are embedding Crisis Call Diverters right within the Communications Centre, “So when you call the police and you are in some sort of mental health crisis, you may end up on the phone at that time instead of talking to a dispatcher.” The crisis call is immediately passed to a mental crisis worker. “I’m really happy things are going down this road. Globally it’s right on trend and it’s what people want to see.”