Edmonton’s police force will be the first law enforcement service in Alberta to fully utilize a new digital tool aimed at improving how officers respond to mental health emergencies.
The Alberta government announced on Thursday it will be spending more than $789,000 in order to provide police officers with the HealthIM system, which has been adopted in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and by a number of services in Ontario.
The app provides front-line officers with an onsite tool and information on how to handle a mental health emergency including de-escalation techniques and a risk assessment screener to help determine whether transportation to health facilities is warranted. The system also allows for communication with those health facilities, which is intended to speed up the transfer of care if needed.
Edmonton Police Service (EPS) will be the first police service to fully implement the system, however, the government is aiming to roll out the digital tool province-wide.
EPS Chief Dale McFee welcomed the additional support in a Thursday news release.
“Providing Alberta’s law enforcement officers with another tool to assist in navigating the complexities of mental health emergencies strengthens policing’s ability to respond and support at a critical point in an individual’s journey to rehabilitation and recovery,” he said in the news release. “The EPS is pleased to be the first in the province to fully adopt HealthIM, and greatly appreciates the assistance of the provincial government. We look forward to working with our policing partners across the province to implement this valuable technology.”
EPS hopes to roll out the app to frontline officers by December, with training and installation taking place as soon as possible. EPS says the police force is covering any in-house costs such as training.
According to the police service, the Police and Crisis Response Team (PACT) conducted 1,984 formal in-person assessments last year with 13 per cent of those resulting in apprehensions under the Mental Health Act. Nearly 80 per cent of those assessments resulted in diversion from hospital emergency to be supported in the community.
PACT was consulted by frontline officers 5,115 times while they were responding to a mental health crisis.
The response team is a partnership between EPS and Alberta Health Service’s Access 24/7 where a constable is paired with a mental health therapist. The pair work together to assess someone’s mental health needs and determine what action to take.
Mental health and addictions associate minister Jason Luan said in the release that a mental health emergency can be a difficult experience for both police and the individual involved.
“Funding to implement the HealthIM system in Alberta will support the health and well-being of Albertans while interacting with police as well as equipping our first responders with the tools they need to perform recovery-oriented interventions,” he said.