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Police should not be ‘front-line on mental health,’ chiefs say

Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu responds to the report into the Stanley Cup Riot in Vancouver, B.C., on Thursday September 1, 2011.

DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Canada's police chiefs say governments must "step up" and provide more support for the mentally ill.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, which has been meeting in Winnipeg, says lack of health-care funding is putting people with mental-health issues on the streets.

Association president Jim Chu says police should not be the front line on mental-health issues.

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He says officers spend too much time in waiting rooms and dealing with people who don't have adequate social and medical support.

Chu, who is chief constable of the Vancouver Police Service, says the focus needs to shift from dealing with a crisis to preventing it in the first place.

Chu says the number of people apprehended by police under the Mental Health Act has more than quadrupled since 2002 — more than 2,600 people in Vancouver so far this year.

"We went from the agency of last resort to the mental-health service agency of first resort," Chu said Wednesday on the last day of the meeting. "And that's wrong. That's failing those who are mentally ill and who deserve better care."

He also said it's not right that the burden has fallen to law enforcement officers.

"Other levels of government ... by not taking responsibility for helping the mentally ill (have) pushed the workload onto the front-line police officer and that's wrong."

Chu pointed out that police services throughout Canada are investing in education and trying to develop new models for officers who deal with the mentally ill.

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One approach has been to include mental health professionals on response units.

A conference is planned for next March on the issue. It's a joint initiative between the police chiefs association and the Mental Health Commission.

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