In the first three months of 2022, Coquitlam RCMP received an average of more than two mental health calls a day in Port Coquitlam.
Dealing with those calls is a “very frequent part” of daily policing, noted Coquitlam RCMP Insp. Darren Carr during a recent discussion with Port Coquitlam council.
The volume of mental health calls in early 2022 represents a 44 percent jump compared to the detachment’s three-year average of 143 calls, according to a recently released report from Coquitlam RCMP.
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The department also fields many calls from the area around the transitional housing shelter at 3030 Gordon Avenue, according to Coquitlam RCMP Insp. Todd Balaban.
“There’s only so much we can do as law enforcement,” Balaban said. “We take them off the property, we offer them help, we offer to take them somewhere but that’s kind of where it ends for us.”
Incidents at 3030 Gordon Avenue rarely result in charges being filed, Balaban said, adding that in many cases prosecution doesn’t make sense.
“For the most part, they’re marginalized people that don’t have anything and they’re asking us to move them seven feet because they’re on drugs,” Balaban said.
The rise in mental health calls underscores the need for a Car 67-type program in the Tri-Cities, according to Coun. Glenn Pollock.
The Car 67 program, which teams a police officer with a psychiatric nurse, was advocated by local mayors as well as Coquitlam RCMP in 2021.
However, discussions with Fraser Health were largely fruitless, according to Coquitlam RCMP Supt. Keith Bramhill.
“Their only answer to us is, ‘Well, if we give it to you, we have to give it to Burnaby,’” Bramhill said in September 2021.
More support doesn’t seem to be forthcoming, based on Carr’s comments to Port Coquitlam council on May 10.
“Car 67 is just one piece of an overall approach to mental health. We’ve not been getting a lot of traction with that, unfortunately,” Carr said.
Pollock also broached the idea of adding something similar to Assistance Helping Out on the Streets, or CAHOOTS.
Featuring one member with medical training and one with mental health training, CAHOOTS units patrol the streets of Eugene, Oregon in vans, often handling between 5 and 8 percent of the city’s 911 and nonemergency calls, according to a recent Seattle Times article.
Once known for helping Grateful Dead fans to the other side of bad trips, CAHOOTS members are known for providing snacks, blankets and referrals to social services.
“I think it’s something we need to pursue,” Pollock said.
A program of that kind would still require police participation, according to Carr.
“One thing we always have to recognize with these programs: they’re there to support the police, not to replace the police,” Carr said.
Mental health calls often mean police officers spending a lot of time on the road and in hospital waiting rooms, according to Carr.
“Part of the problem is we have no acute care facility in Coquitlam/Port Coquitlam,” Carr said, explaining they need to drive patients to Royal Columbian Hospital in New Westminster.
However, wait times at hospitals were down to an average of 79 minutes per call, a 26-minute reduction from the three-year average of 105 minutes.
Traffic tickets slow down
Based on a three-year average, police officers in Port Coquitlam usually hand out 386 speeding tickets in the first three months of the year. However, officers ticketed 101 Port Coquitlam speeders in the first three months of 2022.
That 74 percent drop is due to having fewer officers to put on the road, according to Carr, who cited injuries and illnesses as two of the factors affecting the detachment’s workforce.
“It’s been a challenge over the period of COVID,” he said. “We’re seeing our numbers being impacted.”
Police intercepted one impaired driver in the first quarter of 2022. That figure represents a substantial drop from the three-year average of 16 impaired drivers.
The number of seatbelt and intersection infractions also fell sharply from the three-year average. Police logged four seatbelt infractions compared to the three-year average of 22. Police also recorded 22 intersection infractions, down from the three-year average of 74.
Coquitlam RCMP is looking to add e-ticketing technology in general duty police cars. The upgrade should make officers more efficient, according to Carr.
There were a total of 76 robberies, assaults and sex offences in the first three months of 2022, down slightly from the three-year average of 78.
Property crimes fell from a three-year average of 485 to 423 in 2022.