The Saskatchewan government announced Thursday $6.6 million in funding for Regina police initiatives. Part of those funds are going toward expanding the Regina Police Service's police and crisis team (PACT), which teams police officers with mental health workers.
PACT goes out into the community for calls involving a mental health crisis, and work with RPS officers to de-escalate the situation, ensure people are safe and help the individual experiencing the crisis get help.
The RPS currently has five people in the PACT program: one sergeant, two police officers and two mental health professionals.
The province is providing Regina with $114,400 in new funding this year for an additional PACT position. The new officer and one more mental health professional will be added in January. And PACT hours are being expanded to 8 a.m. to midnight daily.
The province helps fund the police service and other municipal police services throughout Saskatchewan annually. Paul Merriman, minister of corrections, policing and public safety, said that funding was increased by two per cent this year.
The officers in the program, which has been in operation since 2015, have undergone special mental health training. RPS Deputy Chief Lorilee Davies said on Thursday that police need to be in attendance at mental health crisis situations to ensure there aren't any weapons or other dangerous factors on-scene.
"We need to be there to ensure that it is safe for our mental health partners to be able to come in and adequately provide care to the individual," Davies said.
From left: Regina Police Service Deputy Chief Lorilee, Corrections, Policing and Public Safety Minister Paul Merriman and RPS acting Chief Dean Rae at Thursday's provincial funding announcement press conference. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC)
She said that in 2022, PACT was involved in more than 1,900 mental health crisis files.
Davies also said that the pairing of police officers with mental health professionals has reduced visits to the ER for people experiencing a crisis.
Merriman said the program is a necessity in Regina, where police have been met with new challenges in the last 10 years.
"There's more aggression toward police officers, there's more aggression toward any first responders, so the police need to be there to be able to secure the individuals," Merriman said.
He said having a mental health professional on scene improves the way police serve the community.
"I think what makes the difference is the empathy that the police officers are showing on the street level toward the individuals that are having some challenges," Merriman said.
Follow-up and aftercare
Lauren MacDonald, an addictions and mental health therapist in Regina, said she is pleased that the province is putting money toward PACT. However, she said she would like assurance that the mental health workers are properly trained.
"In my mind, the professional capacity of the mental health worker would need to be significant. You can't just go to a crisis call and expect to just have a conversation with someone. You have to bring them down and then have a conversation," MacDonald said.
"You're not sure if it's drug psychosis or if it's an actual mental health break if they're schizophrenic. The concurrent disorders that we have out in our public are significant."
MacDonald said that as a mental health professional, she has found the RPS to be very sympathetic and able to have a respectful conversation with troubled individuals. However, she said police should make sure that everyone involved with PACT is particularly trauma-informed.
Lauren MacDonald, an addictions and mental health therapist at MT Recovery and Family Therapy in Regina, says she is happy the province is helping fund police and mental health teams who attend mental health crises in the community. But she wants assurance that the individuals are being helped long-term. (CBC News)
MacDonald also wants to see PACT improve preventative measures for those who experience mental health crises.
"A follow-up would be significant because when somebody is in a psychosis or a mental health crisis, a lot of times they're blacked out, they don't even remember," MacDonald said.
"So following up afterwards … whether they are at the homeless shelter, whether they're at detox, whether they're in their parents house … following up and seeing then if there was anything that we could offer them as a province that isn't once a month [is important]."
MacDonald said it's one thing for the mental health workers to follow up with those they attended to in the weeks after. But there also needs to be long-term wellness checks.
"Whatever counselling is funded through our province is at least a two-month wait list. And then those first two sessions with their counsellor, if they get the same counsellor, is just filled with paperwork," MacDonald said.
She said this needs to change, as many people with mental health concerns get overwhelmed.
Where the rest of the money is going
Of the $6.60 million, $5.70 million will go to the City of Regina through the municipal police grants program. This grant will support 44 existing police service positions in the community.
Elsewhere, Saskatchewan Government Insurance is also providing $900,000 for five positions as part of the combined traffic services Saskatchewan initiative.
Funding also supports the internet child exploitation (ICE) program, which is dedicated to the investigation of online child exploitation.