Mental Health & Addictions Strategy Set

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 12:43 p.m. October 7, 2019
Updated: 1:30 p.m. October 7, 2019

The Toronto Police Service (TPS) Mental Health & Addictions Strategy was launched at police headquarters Oct. 7.

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The Mental Health & Addictions Strategy was launched by Chief Mark Saunders, Acting TPSB Chair Uppala Chandrasekera, Empowerment Council Executive Director Jennifer Chambers and Inspector Chris Boddy

The Toronto Police Service (TPS) Mental Health & Addictions Strategy detailing specific actions the Service will take to ensure that they are responding effectively and compassionately to community members who appear to be experiencing mental health and/or addictions issues and how they will achieve its goal of zero deaths.

Chief Mark Saunders said the Strategy demonstrates the organization’s commitment to preserving the health and safety of its members and members of the community who are experiencing mental health and/or addiction issues.

“It is intended to be a living document that will evolve as we learn more about the complex issues of mental health and addictions and how those issues impact the lives of people in the community and people in our workplace,” he said. “…The Service is committed to incorporating best practices and learning from our past.”

Saunders thanked community members for their participation in the process.

“As a Service, we have had a long history of working with community partners and we draw on those relationships to help develop this Strategy,” he said. “We sought participation from community members with a lived experience for guidance on how to best interact with and assist individuals who may be experiencing mental health or addiction issues.”

Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB) member Uppala Chandrasekera, who is the Co-Chair of the newly established Mental Health & Addictions Advisory Panel, said the timing of the release is significant in that it coincides with the start of Mental Illness Awareness Week that’s an annual national public education campaign.

“This Mental Health & Addictions Strategy has been the result of years of dedicated effort, considerable community consultation and a distinct recognition that how our police officers respond to people with mental health and addictions is one of the most important priorities for our organizations and our city,” she said.

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The Mental Health & Addictions Strategy at police headquarters on Oct. 7, 2019

The impetus for the Strategy came from key recommendations made in the Board’s 2016 Mental Health External Advisory Committee report. The recommendations were unanimously endorsed by the TPSB and strongly supported by the TPS.

The Strategy was also developed in close consultation with the Board’s former Mental Health sub-committee, the TPS and Board representatives.

“This Strategy lays a solid foundation for a wide-ranging and evolving people-focussed approach which incorporates a comprehensive system of data, measurement and the clear articulation of operational outcomes,” said Chandrasekera. “Importantly, it is rooted in the goals and objectives of ‘The Way Forward’ which is the Board’s and the Service’s action plan for modernization, including embracing partnerships to create safe communities and reinforcing a commitment to the principles of organizational transformation with an emphasis on neighbourhood policing and connecting people to the appropriate services in their communities.”

Chandrasekera made it clear that the Strategy doesn’t only support members of the community, but it places a necessary emphasis on the mental health and wellness of TPS members.

“Our members are faced with the most difficult, intense and challenging situations on a daily basis,” she noted. “It is critical that we not only continue to put into place the relevant programming and initiatives to effectively support workplace mental health, but that we continue to encourage the cultural shifts necessary to remove stigma and inspire dialogue.”

In 2017, Chandrasekera became the first mental health expert appointed to the TPSB. She is the Canadian Mental Health Association Public Policy Director and a Mental Health Commission of Canada Board Director.

She said an important feature of the Strategy is that it was developed not just as a stand-alone document, but as an evolving and dynamic process that can grow and change in response to new and emerging information.

“This vital Strategy builds on the expertise of our renowned training college and its commitment to the principle of de-escalation, and it recognizes the remarkable day-to-day dedication of our frontline officers as well as the excellence of initiatives like our innovative and collaborative Mobile Crisis Intervention Team program which partners a mental health nurse and a specially trained police officer to respond to mental health and substance use-related crisis situations,” she said.

“It also demonstrates our sincere and robust organizational commitment to both serving and protecting the people of Toronto every day. As a Board, we are committed to ensuring that this Strategy charts our way forward in the years to come.”

Chandrasekera thanked the Chief for his leadership in ensuring that interactions between the police and individuals in crisis are characterized by understanding and compassion and for his willingness to shine a light on the mental health challenges that Service members face daily.

“Today is a good day,” she pointed out. “It’s a hopeful day. While the challenges we face in responding to mental health and addiction issues are significant and at times seem overwhelming, this innovative Strategy released today presents a crucial roadmap for a comprehensive and compassionate response.”

It is based on a recognition that how police treat people matters deeply

Jennifer Chambers, the Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Panel Community Co-Chair, said the Strategy is meant to preserve the lives, well-being and dignity of people in crisis in Toronto, including police officers.

“It is based on a recognition that how police treat people matters deeply,” the Empowerment Council Executive Director said. “It matters not only to the person, but to the person who loves them…Because of the inclusion of the voices of people who have experienced crises, this document reflects an understanding of the broader context in which crises occur. Without social justice, equity and basic human needs being met, not to mention access to affordable therapy, crises are not going away. It helps to relate to a person in crisis if you have some understanding of what it can be about. This is how de-escalation is possible.”

The Strategy outlines eight key areas of commitment. They are preserving life, leadership, cultural competence/equity/anti-racism, stigma-free environment, continuous learning, advocacy & partnerships, evaluation, transparency/accountability and oversight & reporting.

For each area, the Strategy includes a set of initial action items that will assist the Service in fulfilling its commitment. The Service will be evaluating the progress of the implementation of the Strategy and will work to address additional action items that follow.

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