Nanaimo RCMP adapting as mental health calls steadily rise

By Dominic Abassi
June 11, 2018 - 5:20pm

RCMP members were able to grab a woman perched on the railing of this bridge, a recent example of police's role as frontline mental health workers.Google

NANAIMO — Two Nanaimo Mounties are being hailed as heroes after talking a young woman off the top railing of the Bastion Street bridge, another example of the evolving role of police officers.

Nanaimo RCMP Cst. Gary O'Brien said the two members, Cst. Derek Carl and Cst. Jessica Barnett, responded to the call in late May and found the woman dangerously perched on top of the downtown bridge.

As Barnett struck-up a conversation with the woman, who O'Brien said appeared to be in her late-teens, Carl was able to grab her off the ledge and bring her to safety.

O'Brien said it's nothing new for their members, who are dealing with mental health or social disorder issues during more than 60 per cent of their call-outs.

"It's one of the most difficult calls you deal with because the members are fully aware if they say or do something wrong, it could possibly end in the death of an individual," O'Brien told NanaimoNewsNOW.

He said it seems people in communities across B.C. are under more stress, whether from family or work issues, pushing mental health-related calls up year-after-year.

"We're going in the place of a mental health or social worker because we are the first responder...That's the reality of our job and that's why the focus of our training now is on de-escalation, recognizing mental health issues and knowing the resources in our community to get people help."

O'Brien said the addition of a dedicated mental health officer to their force last year is having a positive impact. When RCMP respond to a call where mental health issues were at play, the new officer follows up and connects people with community resources to hopefully avoid more interactions with police.

"We need more of them. Every community needs more of them."

The majority of work for modern Mounties is not "criminal based," O'Brien said, and challenges presented during often tense, life-or-death situations take a toll.

"There's an extreme jeopardy. The members are debriefed after and we will follow up with them to make sure they're okay. They keep thinking 'What if, what could I have done differently.' In this most recent situation, they did a great job and the young girl is getting the help she needs."


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