A new guideline for referring non-emergency calls related to mental health from Saskatoon police to mobile crisis workers has officially launched.
Earlier this month, city police and Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service implemented the “Mental Health and Suicide Intervention Call Transfer Protocol,” which police phone operators can use to assess mental health-related calls, police announced in a media release on Wednesday.
The calls will be screened using a “risk matrix” and callers will be offered the option of being referred to mobile crisis. If a caller declines the transfer, police will continue to handle the call. If they accept the transfer, a crisis worker will take over the call and make an assessment about how to respond.
During the planning stages, it started out as a pilot project, but it will now remain in place indefinitely.
Rita Field, executive director of the Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service, said in some senses this has been done in the past, but the protocol has standardized the process.
“It was a smooth transition, it’s working well, it’s a good fit and I think it will serve our community, our families and our individuals very well,” Field said.
Police often receive mental health-related calls during non-business hours from people who don’t know who else to call.
Before a police operator considers transferring a call, the “risk matrix” has them confirm the following: the situation isn’t emergent; no weapons are present and the person isn’t acting in a way that endangers the caller or others; self-harm or harm to others isn’t being reported, nor is a criminal act (either suggested or having been committed); there is no indication of an intimate or domestic partner dispute; and no one is reporting an immediate need for medical attention.
Last year, Saskatoon police and SCIS announced they were working on a “risk matrix” to determine whether it would be most appropriate to dispatch police to a call or refer it to mobile crisis.
Saskatoon police examined their response to non-criminal calls involving mental health amid public pressure for reforms after the murder of George Floyd in May 2020 in Minneapolis by a now-former police officer. They analyzed calls to police made in July and August 2019 and January 2020 and found between 75 and 130 calls per month could be diverted to SCIS.
Field said SCIS will keep track of how the protocol will affect its service and resources.
The non-profit is using its current infrastructure in responding to calls, either by phone, in the office or in the community.
The calls referred to mobile crisis mirror the ones they’re familiar with receiving through their direct line: a majority have a mental health component and possibly a substance use component.
Field said there’s a prevention component to referring the calls as well, and called the protocol a good start.
“I’m just so impressed with our police service recognizing that we don’t need to make something new and fresh, we can build on what’s already working.”
Saskatoon Crisis Intervention Service can be reached 24 hours a day, seven days a week at (306) 933-6200.
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