By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba says it has become the first province to expand the use of a tool that helps officers respond to people experiencing a mental-health crisis to all of its police forces.
Justice Minister Cliff Cullen announced Thursday that $450,000 from the Federal Proceeds of Crime Fund would be used to spread the use of HealthIM.
“This system supports a more empathetic and evidence-based response to citizens suffering from unmanaged mental-health challenges and protects the public, medical staff and the person in crisis,” Cullen said.
The risk-assessment tool, created by an Ontario company, is installed in patrol cars and on mobile devices. When officers respond to a call, a four-minute screening helps police determine an appropriate response.
In low-risk situations, it helps the at-risk person work with officers to get referred to a mental-health agency. When the situation is high risk, the tool helps officers find an approach to reduce the likelihood the person will harm themselves or others.
Officers can also see if the person has had a prior mental health crisis during a police response.
Information from the police assessment is later sent electronically to health agencies which receive the person in crisis.
Police response to mental-health calls has been criticized across the country in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests and the deaths of people during police wellness checks in recent months.
HealthIM has been used in Manitoba by some police services for more than a year. Winnipeg police Deputy Chief Gord Perrier said the tool has improved outcomes and overall patient care.
“We are the leaders in the country when we talk about policing, mental health and really a provincial step forward,” Perrrier said.
Between July 2019 and June 2020, the tool was used 4,087 times, the province said. In 28.5 per cent of cases, the person didn’t require hospitalization or other urgent interventions. Manitoba also saw a 57.5 per cent decrease in apprehension rates during the same period.
Perrier said the tool helps officers approach situations differently. For example, a person experiencing a mental-health issue may see butterflies everywhere but that doesn’t mean it’s a crisis, he said. The person will likely need health care, but they do not need to be forcibly brought into custody.
“But if the butterflies are commanding you to hurt somebody, now you are in a crisis.”
That’s a big distinction, he said, and the tool helps clarify when there needs to be police intervention.