When I first became involved in the Ontario Provincial Police Mental Health Strategy I was a well written mascot for individuals who come into contact with the criminal justice system as a result of mental health difficulties. After pouring my heart and story into a gathering of Ontario Provincial Police (O.P.P.) officers, service providers and community stakeholders I was invited to lunch by one of the O.P.P. “brass.”
We ate at Boston Pizza so funds could stay within the “ranks.” I asked this individual why don’t the O.P.P. have specialized officers like they have officers who are trained in S.W.A.T.? “It would de-escalate the situation if an officer entered the situation with “N.U.R.S.E.” written on their bulletproof vest, I said. No, we want healthcare agencies and community stakeholders to step up he retorted. They are better equipped and we are a police agency, healthcare is not our mandate. This all made “cents” and my only other question was if there was a statute of limitations on perjury. He seemed to prickle at the question. Possibly he thought I was asking for myself but answered, No, but it’s not something we normally pursue.
I made the 8 hour round trip to O.P.P. Headquarters in Orilla a few times so people being paid could bounce acronyms off my brain and to be traumatized by uniforms, locked doors and training scenarios where I could imagine myself and people I have met over the years shot to death. The main take away for me was to make sure I keep at least a distance of 21 feet from armed officers as anything less becomes licence to kill.
About a year later I had a couple meetings at the London O.P.P. Detachment and the plan was for me to travel across the province except for Thunder Bay to different detachments to help promote the Ontario Provincial Police Mental Health Strategy. I was starting to go “off script” and received one last phone call.
I was told how the O.P.P. was now visiting mental health consumers in the community and escorting them to doctor appointments and such to instil in these individuals a sense that two uniformed officers at your front door is a good thing. I asked, “what is the salary of a police officer?” “I’m not sure” was the reply. “Well, I’ll tell you, it’s around $60,000 out of the gate.” “Two mental health workers (without uniforms, guns and specially painted cruisers) is about half that.” “Why not have twice as many mental health workers do the same thing?”
For those who are unfamiliar with the difference between mental health workers and police, only one imagines themselves as such which makes all the difference.
If the O.P.P. and other police forces in Canada do in fact want better mental health outcomes for citizens either specialize or stand down. Until then, like the individual mentioned after buying me lunch with his constabulary credit card: “We’ll let the Queen pay.”