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What does a Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team do?

Most cities want to expand the program, but does it even work?

The death of 18 year old Sammy Yatim seems to have been a tipping point, for dealing with people in crisis.

Yatim was gunned down on a TTC Streetcar exactly one year ago on Sunday. A police officer is now facing a charge of second degree murder.

Since November, Hamilton Police have teamed up with St Joseph's Healthcare in forming Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Teams.

Those teams consist of one uniformed police officer and one mental health support worker, and it would seem the program has already been labelled a success.

"I would say on average, I see 5 or 6 people in a day. Sometimes, I see as many as 8." said mental health support worker Sarah Burtenshaw.

She's worked on a team since November, when the program was launched.

Burtenshaw says they tour around the city, waiting for 9-1-1 calls to come in, where the term 'mental health' is mentioned.

"People who are suicidal, who need assistance, it might be somebody who has dementia, and the family is calling about them. It could also be someone who is psychotic who's in a crisis in a public place."

Essentially, what her job entails is to try and diffuse the situation. But Burtenshaw says sometimes it's just her presence, being a mental health worker, and not a police officer, that helps de-escalate a situation.

"I think there's the perception that there's a mental health worker there, who is there to help them, and it really does re-direct the focus away from a policing one, to someone thinking 'I'm going to get some help right now'." says Burtenshaw.

So far the program has been deemed a success, with about 400 people in a state of crisis being dealt with since November.

But just like in Toronto, the team is based out of the central district in Hamilton, and does not operate 24/7.

"Hamilton has trained a lot of our officers in crisis intervention team training, so over 270 officers have mental health training." said Burtenshaw, when asked about what happens outside of those 12 hours, Monday through Friday.

Having those officers trained, helps when a call comes in, in the middle of the night, when no member of the Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team is available.

When it comes to a situation going off the rails, she says she's had 'surprisingly few'.

"I think we're able to respond to what's happening. As things escalate, you try to de-escalate them as the situation progresses."

Burtenshaw says the MCRRT has been able to keep people out of holding cells who don't belong there, and also keep people from jamming up emergency rooms in Hamilton, who just needed to speak with a mental health professional.

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  1. tanjo posted on 07/25/2014 11:21 AM
    400 since November stands out to me.

    It sounds like the key is to have a "safe" emergency service to call, rather than suffer the stigma of a full-blown police presence.

    I think it would work head off a crisis before it starts, but I don't really see this helping once someone has pulled out a meat cleaver on a bus.
    1. dama posted on 07/25/2014 12:14 PM
      @tanjo If someone pulled a cleaver and is alone in the bus who is he going to harm but himself..... close the fxxking doors and wait it out... unless you are James Forcillo..
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