Honouring Police-Hospital Mental Health Response

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 10 a.m. December 22, 2020
Updated: 4:08 p.m. December 23, 2020

Members of Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams (MCITs) who intervene in mental health crises every day were honoured for their work this month.

Three people on stairs, one holds a plaque
Constable Chris Atwood accepts an MCIT award from Deputy Chief Peter Yuen and Michael Garron Hospital President & CEO Sarah Downey

MCITs respond to calls involving people in mental health crisis, including thoughts of suicide or self-harm threats, distorted or psychotic thinking, anxiety and overwhelming depression. 

The teams that combine a police officer and a mental health nurse assess an individual's specific needs, provide intervention and support at the scene, de-escalate the situation and ensure the person is connected to appropriate services. 

Deputy Chief Peter Yuen said the program, which is little known to most Torontonians is actually 20 years old.

“We started small in one Division and now we are in every Division,” he said. “We are looking to expand early next year and that will bring better service to the community. We receive over 30,000 personal crisis calls yearly and the MCITs play a critical role. When you look at some of the special qualities of the MCITs, you see they are good at communicating, they show a lot of compassion and they are very good at de-escalating. These are the things that we as a Service want to achieve and will achieve. I am very proud to say we have the best program in the country.”

Michael Garron Hospital President & CEO Sarah Downey, who co-chairs the Toronto MCIT Steering Committee with Deputy Yuen, also joined in presenting the awards.

Last August, 55 Division officers attended an assault radio call indicating a resident had been assaulted by her son. While on their way, they learned the man had been arrested in the last month and that weapons were hidden throughout his home.

Once on the scene, the mother told police she didn’t want to report the assault because she feared her son might be injured as a result of the police response.

Officers showed compassion and understanding while dealing with the victim and managed to get information regarding the persons inside the home and the potential hazards police would encounter.

As officers made their way up the stairs and one of them opened the son’s bedroom’s door, they saw he had an axe in his right hand that he raised over his head and advanced towards the police when he saw them.

A Taser was deployed that proved ineffective and the officers backed off the interaction even as the man swung the axe wildly at them as they made their way down the stairs and out of harm's way.

With officers securing the home preventing the man from exiting, Constable Christopher Atwood began to communicate with the man in an attempt to calm him down. 

After a lengthy negotiation, the Emergency Task Force (ETF) arrested him inside his bedroom.

Atwood was commended for his actions and teamwork with MCIT Excellence Awards at police headquarters on December 10.

MCITs, which partner a mental health nurse and a specially trained police officer to respond to situations involving individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, are available throughout the city.

“This is quite a surprise and an honour,” said Atwood, who is in his 14th year with the Service. 

He was an MCIT officer for four years.

“I just really try to do my best job all the time,” added Atwood who started his policing career at 41 Division. “I had a grandmother that suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and I have a grasp of the family struggles that go with it. I decided to become a MCIT officer because I wanted to help others, both the victims and family members.”

Insp. James Hung nominated Atwood the award.

A group of four people on stairs, two hold plaques
Nurse George Kvacha and Constable Fitzroy Parker were given an MCIT award for intervening with a man in crisis

“The fact that Chris played a leading role in preventing any injury or harm to the subject and the community makes him very deserving of this award,” said Hung.

Iasci has been an MCIT nurse for nearly seven years.

“When this program works, it does so very well,” he said. “It’s very invaluable and I am just grateful to be part of this program. Working with the police has been an eye-opening experience. Nurses and police officers are here to serve. We just do it in a different way.”

Maryann O’Hearne, the Clinical Team Manager at North York General Hospital, nominated Iasci for the award.

“Roberto has a manner about him that invites you to converse with him,” she said. “He’s an exceptional listener. He’s genuine and caring, often going the extra mile when it comes to patient care. He’s also open-minded and non-judgmental, resulting in positive outcomes for our patient population.”

Const. Fitzroy Parker and George Kvasha of Michael Garron & Humber River Hospitals were the Team Award winners.

In August 2020, they attended a residence on two separate occasions in one day for a dispute and person in crisis. A man with schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder resided in a rooming house for people with mental illness.

Parker and Kvasha’s calm demeanour led to the man being apprehended without incident.

“The natural skill which Constable Parker utilized to de-escalate a volatile situation is a testament to why he was selected as an MCIT officer,” said Insp. James Hung, who nominated Parker for the award. “This successful outcome also highlights the important role the MCIT program plays in the City of Toronto’s response to those suffering from mental health issues. Both the officer and the nurse exemplified the Service’s core values.”

Parker joined the MCIT program seven years ago.

“I had an interest in mental health and I saw a need arising with the growing number of mental health cases in our city,” noted the officer who has been a Service member for 16 years. “I just thought this was an area where I could make an impact.”

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