COQUITLAM (NEWS 1130) – Mental Health and distress calls are usually met with fully-armed police officers but the mayor of Coquitlam says that needs to change.
Mayor Richard Stewart hopes he will get the province’s support to implement a mental health response that would pair a psychiatric nurse with a plain-clothes officer.
“Police tell us the same thing they — they don’t think it’s a good idea to send an armed police and uniformed police officer into some of these situations,” he said.
In a Facebook post Saturday, Stewart shared his own first-hand experience of having to call an ambulance for his daughter. Upon calling 9-1-1, it was directed to police and was treated as a police matter until his daughter had calmed down enough to consent to going to hospital via an ambulance.
“She chose the ambulance, at which point the medical professionals (paramedics) were called in from up the street. Up until that point, this health care emergency was completely in the hands of police. And most police will agree that it shouldn’t be that way,” the post reads.
Two armed, uniformed police officers on our front porch was unsettling. It was 2015, and we had called for an ambulance…
When talking to NEWS 1130 about the need for change, Stewart adds, “The presence of police, we hear from other families made it worse. And we hear from BIPOC families, families from war torn parts of the world, where a uniform with a gun is not a friend.”
The stereotype that people with mental health challenges are dangerous or prone to violence, is reinforced when a health emergency is responded to by uniformed police officers, Stewart said on Facebook, writing, “The stigma associated with various mental illnesses also needs to be considered, and a uniformed police response to a health emergency only adds to the stigma that comes with mental illness, the criminalization of mental health challenges.”
Unable to implement a change in procedure on a municipal level, Stewart is asking the province to implement a program similar to Surrey’s Car 67 or Vancouver’s Car 87 program in order to safely de-escalate similar situations.
“To have fully-armed police officers on our front porch – a gun on one side, a taser on the side – it’s very disconcerting,” he said.
“One small part of our healthcare system, essentially responded to by police who aren’t trained in medicine, is wrong.”
– With files from Robyn Crawford