Training Improves Mental Health Response

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 2:06 p.m. November 17, 2016

Every police officer knows that people living with mental illness have unique needs and, quite often, many issues may be at play when they come into contact with police.

Two men in TPS uniform, one holding a framed certificate, with another man
Sergeant Henry Dyck accepts his Mental Health Excellence Award from Chief Mark Saunders and Toronto Police Services Board Chair Andy Pringle

Understanding a patient’s privacy, seeking rights advice, and determining capacity, among others, makes mental illness and the law an increasingly complex area.   

Realizing that the issue of persons found not criminally responsible for their actions confused police officers, Sergeant Henry Dyck carefully researched this area of law and presented his concerns to Michael Feindel, the Ontario Review Board (ORB) crown attorney for Toronto.

The ORB is an independent tribunal with jurisdiction over people who have been found unfit to stand trial or not criminally responsible by the province’s courts due to a mental disorder.

Dyck and Feindel developed an educational package to assist officers in how to effectively deal with individuals who are subject to disposition orders from the review board.

The establishment of this new award reflects very much the Board’s strong belief and priority that this is a critical issue facing police today

This training has been shared with hundreds of officers across the province.

Dyck was recognized for his trailblazing research and support for people with mental-health issues with the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) inaugural Mental Health Excellence Award presented on November 16 at police headquarters.

“The establishment of this new award reflects very much the Board’s strong belief and priority that this is a critical issue facing police today,” said Board chair Andy Pringle.

Last year, communications operators received almost 24,000 calls for people in mental distress.

“It’s a huge issue which we recognize and have to get right and be the best we can possibly be,” added Pringle.

Assigned to  51 Division since February 2015, Dyck humbly accepted the recognition.

“The fact that Toronto Police recognizes that we deal with people with a variety of mental-health issues is something that I am appreciative of,” he said. “It is fantastic that that recognition is at a level that we want to seek out and honour our people who are doing the kind of work that makes a difference.”

I am happy that I was able to do things with community partners to further their objectives of trying to raise awareness about mental-health issues

Dyck said his support for people with mental-health issues picked up steam while he was assigned to 14 Division as a constable.

“Officers at that station have a lot of interaction with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) which is close by,” he pointed out. “As a result, I started to become more aware of some of the issues and what I thought we needed to be doing. I started sitting on the CAMH Police Liaison Committee and that brought a lot of different things to my attention. So, I was able to work alongside people from CAMH on a number of initiatives such as educational pieces for both their frontline staff and the police.”

In the last two years, Dyck has co-hosted educational sessions at CAMH to educate their staff about police-client interactions, and lawyers enrolled in the CAMH Mental Health law certificate program.

“I am happy that I was able to do things with community partners to further their objectives of trying to raise awareness about mental-health issues,” he said.

Dyck joined the Service a decade ago, after serving as a religious minister, working as an assistant manager at a homeless shelter and doing graduate work in history and ethics in Canada and the United States.

“While doing graduate studies work, I was making some money, but I wasn’t feeling a sense of fulfillment,” he said. “That when I started asking myself what I wanted to do and I realized it was not sitting behind a desk every day. I wanted to be in a field where I could make a difference.”

Joining the Service in 2005, Dyck was promoted last year and assigned to 51 Division.

A past president of the Pride & Remembrance Run, he is the co-chair of the Services’ Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer Youth Internal Support Network and a vocal anti-bullying advocate.

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