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Fraser Health 'unable to support' mental health car in Burnaby: RCMP

Burnaby RCMP proposed pilot program in November amid 21% jump in mental health calls and 14% increase in mental health apprehensions in 2020
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Burnaby RCMP officers surround a woman walking down a Metrotown sidewalk with a large steak knife in hand last year. The woman was apprehended under the Mental Health Act. It was one of 1,102 mental health apprehensions in 2020.

Despite skyrocketing mental health calls to local police, Burnaby won’t be getting a mental health car like Surrey’s Car 67 any time soon because the Fraser Health Authority is “unable to support” the proposed program, according to Burnaby RCMP.

At a meeting of the city’s public safety committee last month, Supt. Graham De la gorgendiere, the officer currently in charge of the Burnaby detachment, was asked about plans for a mobile crisis response unit in the city.

The detachment had proposed a pilot project for a “mental health outreach car program” in November that would see a Burnaby RCMP officer and a Fraser Health psychiatric nurse respond to calls involving people in mental health crisis, as well as vulnerable individuals, mental health clients and people with mental health challenges.

Burnaby RCMP said it was prepared to allocate a full-time officer to the program as well as a vehicle and other equipment.

Such programs already exist in Vancouver and Surrey – dubbed Car 87 and Car 67 respectively.

De la gorgendiere told the March 17 public safety committee he had been on a conference call with the health authority that very day.

“The discussions are ongoing right now,” he said. “I expect to have further follow-up next week … They’re dealing with the pandemic as well, and where this fits into their priorities, I’m not sure yet, but it’s important to us, and we’ll be looking to follow up with those conversations. It’s not lost on us. We haven’t forgotten about it.”

After inquiries from the NOW, however, Burnaby RCMP said this week that the health authority has not given the proposed partnership a green light.

“Fraser Health has indicated they are unable to support the Burnaby RCMP’s proposed program at this time but they remain committed to collaborating with the Burnaby RCMP to support people in mental health crisis through existing services,” stated an email from media spokesperson Cpl. Brett Cunningham.

Mental health calls to police in Burnaby jumped 21% in 2020 (from 2,811 in 2019 to 3,410 in 2020), according to Cunningham, and the number of mental health apprehensions in the city rose 14% (from 968 in 2019 to 1,102 in 2020).

Before retiring in February, Chief Supt. Deanne Burleigh, the detachment’s last top cop, said police are the “last resort” when there’s nowhere else for people to turn.

“You see these acute situations and crisis situations on a daily basis,” she said in a 2019 interview.

Cunningham said most crime in Burnaby is trending downwards, but mental health calls continue to be a “significant concern” for the detachment.

“We often find our officers addressing anti-social and criminal behaviour resulting from mental health issues,” he said. “Burnaby frontline officers are called to respond to mental health related incidents with increasing frequency. We recognize that, while police are often engaged, the solution to mental health related issues requires a greater societal response.”

Without Fraser Health onboard and no immediate plan to get a mental health car on the road, Cunningham said Burnaby RCMP will continue with two designated officers who are already engaged in mental health outreach in the city.

But the goal of getting a mental health car program off the ground isn’t dead yet, according to the Burnaby RCMP.

“We will continue to collaborate with Fraser Health in an effort to work toward establishing a mental health car program, which we view as a significant step forward in providing service to those in crisis,” Cunningham said.

But Fraser Heath said it doesn't currently have plans to support formal mental health car programs in any of its other communities, just Surrey.

"The Car 67 program is a highly specialized program that is unique to the Surrey community," media spokesperson Alycia Coulter said in an emailed statement. "We will continue to work with the RCMP on an ongoing basis to support the Burnaby community with access to appropriate mental health and substance use services.

Coulter provided no explanation for why Fraser Health wouldn't support the project.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor


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