A mental health car program that sees a psychiatric nurse attend calls with police is finally up and running in Burnaby – six years after Burnaby RCMP first started advocating for it.
The detachment first started lobbying for a program like Surrey RCMP's Car 67 in 2017 amid a rise in mental health calls in Burnaby.
The Surrey program, which pairs police officers with a Fraser Health mental health nurse, has been running since 2000.
Burnaby RCMP proposed a pilot in 2020 for a similar program in this city, but Fraser Health rejected the idea, telling the detachment it was "unable to support" it, Chief Supt. Graham de la Gorgendiere, the officer in charge of the Burnaby detachment, told a March 2021 public safety committee meeting.
When asked why the health authority was able to support the Surrey program and not the proposed Burnaby pilot, a Fraser Health spokesperson told the NOW the Car 67 program was a "highly specialized" program "unique to the Surrey community."
In July, however, the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions and the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General announced the province had set aside $3 million to expand mobile integrated crisis response (MICR) teams to nine communities in B.C., including Burnaby.
Burnaby's share of the money is $248,000 to launch its team "over the fiscal year," according to the Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions.
Whether that funding will be ongoing is currently unclear.
"We will have more to say on next steps with the program in the New Year," read an emailed statement from the ministry.
Burnaby's MICR team launched on Nov. 6, with Burnaby RCMP funding the vehicle, the officers and the uniforms, and Fraser Health paying for the clinical supports with the new provincial funding.
The team works from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week, responding "reactively" to calls with a mental-health or substance-use crisis component, according to Burnaby RCMP.
The detachment said calls to the Burnaby RCMP non-emergency line and 911 will be triaged for MICR attendance subject to availability and the circumstances of the individual call.
The MICR program is designed to complement work already being done by Burnaby RCMP frontline officers and the detachment's police mental health and homelessness outreach team, which is continuing its proactive outreach work.
Burnaby Mayor Mike Hurley said the mental health car has had an "immediate impact" on the community since its launch.
"Everyone deserves to be treated with care and compassion, and I applaud the nurses and Burnaby RCMP members who are doing this essential work," Hurley said in an emailed statement.
Burnaby RCMP officials have long said police are often the last resort for individuals and families dealing with a mental health crisis.
"By pairing police with health-care professionals when responding to calls, we are able to enhance service in a way that benefits vulnerable members of our community," de la Gorgendiere said.