New program pairs Victoria police officers with nurses for mental health calls

Victoria Police Chief Del Manak stands next to Tasha McKelvey and Rob Schuckel from Island Health as he announces the VicPD and Island Health's new co-response team on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023.   (Mike Mcarthur - image credit)
Victoria Police Chief Del Manak stands next to Tasha McKelvey and Rob Schuckel from Island Health as he announces the VicPD and Island Health's new co-response team on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. (Mike Mcarthur - image credit)

A new program in Victoria will pair police officers with registered nurses to handle mental health-related calls.

Officially launched on Monday after a two-week pilot, the Co-Response Team (CRT) will respond to calls in Victoria and Esquimalt from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

The CRT consists of two teams, each with a specially trained police officer and a nurse experienced in psychiatry and mental health care.

"We're addressing a gap ...  this is what our communities have been asking for, for quite a long time," said Victoria police Chief Del Manak at Monday's announcement.

Both 911 and non-emergency call takers will assess whether the situation warrants a police-only or a CRT response, Manak said.

The officers will be armed, he said, but both the officers and the health-care workers will be dressed in plain clothes and will travel in an unmarked police car for discretion.

Health staff will work to assist the person, which may involve seeking their friends or family, offering hospital care, or referring them to other community resources, said Tasha McKelvey, the director of the South Island Mental Health and Substance Use with Island Health.

"The co-response team will resolve mental health situations collaboratively and in the least intrusive way," said McKelvey.

Rob Schuckel, the co-ordinator with Island Health's Mental Health and Substance Use Services, said these calls come from various locations, including shelters on the streets and in people's homes.

"Really, we're just working with that person. We're trying to have a conversation about what's going on today."

A similar program launched months ago by the Nanaimo RCMP paired a specially-trained officer with a registered nurse to resolve urgent mental health-related crisis situations.

Similar programs have also started in B.C.'s Interior and other provinces.