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Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Mental Health Calls Increasing In Owen Sound

Owen Sound | by Claire McCormack  

Police Chief says the number of calls a year has roughly tripled over the last decade.

While the number of Owen Sound Police officers stays relatively the same, and so does the city's population, the number of mental health calls police attend in the city is steadily going up.

Police Chief Bill Sornberger says in 2017 there were 225 mental health calls, and in the same span of time this year, there have been 354. Back in 2007 there were 111 calls.

Now, a local family has asked the Owen Sound Police Service to do something about how mental health calls are handled.

The Bell family attended a Police Services Board meeting last week (Sept 26) where they brought their concerns to Police Chief Bill Sornberger and members of the board.

Adeline Bell says her 52 year old son suffers from mental health issues and lives in a 'hotspot' for calls. Police are often there.

Bell feels it should be a mental health worker, or an officer with mental health traning who is sent to the call alongside police.

She says her son is afraid of police, and she's worried about how he could react to officers, "He's immature, he does have a personailty disroder, he does not know good judgement from bad, he does not know which battles to fight and which to let go."

In reposnse to the Bell's request, Chief Sornberger said they'll see if there's a way to improve the situation.

He notes, "We don't have somebody right now that we have trained or a mental health nurse on staff to help with public calls for service."

Owen Sound Police, and other local police services do have the use of the Canadian Mental Health Association Grey Bruce's Urgent Responce Team (URT).

While the team is on call 24/7 they also serve all of Grey Bruce, from Thornbury to Kincardine to Tobermory to Hanover.

Tania Grimmer, local URT Manager says a worker may not get there right away, they may be clear across the region.

Grimmer says they have roughly 10 people on staff and two or three working at any given time.

Meanwhile, Sornberger says it's the police who are called at all hours of the day.

Sornberger says his officers have de-escalation training.

He says when officers get a call, they go and make a determination if that person is a threat to themselves or to others. He says they may make an apprehension under the Mental Health Act and if not, they'll try and get resources to contact that person or set them in the right direction as to where they can go to seek some help."

But often, Sornberger says those calls can have officers waiting around the hospital for long periods of time when they should be out patrolling.

Another member of the Bell family, David, says "I'm not saying that they're not good police officers, but we may need more enhanced training or someone specializing in that area of expertise, and that's what we're looking for."

Sornberger supports a community response to the growing issue, "We need to get a holistic approach to this. We need to sit down and come up with a plan that works with mental health people. We need to get more supports in the community."

"Resources being rescources, and it's not their fault, but we can't always get somebody there and so we have to deal with it."

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