Chair: Councillor Nakagawa
Mandate: The role of the Peer Assisted Crisis Team Working Group is to provide the City's framework for the response and submission to the Province's Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act.
Below is the written and video submission by the City of New Westminster in response to a province-wide call for consultation by the Special Committee on Reforming the BC Police Act.
April 2021 Report Submission to the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act
We Need Your Help to Develop the Peer Assisted Crisis Team New WEst
In March 2020 the government of British Columbia appointed a Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act and invited municipalities to provide recommendations and input regarding public safety and policing. This includes both the BC Police Act and the BC Mental Health Act. In response, the City of New Westminster convened a Council led working group to prepare a submission that calls for policing and public safety to be restructured in accordance with the City’s values and calls for greater municipal change.
The submission acknowledged:
“…No amount of change to the BC Police Act or Mental Act alone can replace the need for greater structural change that would reduce the criminalization of poverty or social condition due to deficits in coordinated, region-wide approaches to housing, healthcare and community services.”
The recommendations for change help to amplify and center the voices of racialized, indigenous, homeless and vulnerable members of our community who have been living at the intersection of historical and systemic marginalization.
Starting from a place of compassion and inclusion, everyone in our City should have a sense of place, to have a home, and to enjoy access to food, integrated health services and full employment with a livable income. We advocate for the decriminalization of drugs, and that the sources of poverty and desperation are addressed at their cause. We believe that this should be supported by strong, intergovernmental collaboration within a sustainable and regenerative environment.
Developing a community-led response to mental health crisis (PACT pilot project)
One of the City’s key directions is developing an effective community response to mental health crisis. Some of the key crisis drivers are shelter / housing issues, food security, family conflict, alcohol / substances, depression / anxiety, loss and minor physical injuries.
In BC, police officers are the frontline responders to mental health crises. Due to legislation and a lack of voluntary health and social services, people experiencing a crisis are transported by police to only one of two options: hospital emergency rooms or the prison system. Neither is well-equipped to address the complex issues that led to the crisis.
To try to more effectively meet the needs of our community, the City of New Westminster is working with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to develop Peer Assisted Crisis Teams (PACT). These Mobile Crisis Teams, based on North American best practices and staffed by peer and mental health specialists, provide support and connection to a range of services such as housing, treatment, benefits, and employment.
PACT is an alternative or auxiliary service to police response to crisis calls related to mental health. This will move us from an incarceration approach to a health response to mental health crisis.
Key PACT pilot project components include:
- Pairs a mental health professional with a trained peer crisis responder.
- Expands the range of mental health supports to City of New Westminster residents, co-designed with populations at higher risk of experiencing distress that may lead to police contact.
- Intends to keeps people living with mental illness and substance use and their families connected to their communities and voluntary mental health services.
Over the next year the City and CMHA will conduct two phases of the PACT Pilot Project:
- Phase 1 includes:
- CONVENE a Community Design Table comprised of community agencies and people with lived and living experience of mental illness, substance use and interactions with police to determine operational requirements for the program.
- CO-DEVELOP a model for a civilian-led mobile crisis response team to the City of New Westminster based on the input from the Systems / Community Planning Tables and the findings from the stakeholder engagement.
- PROCURE community agency to operate the service through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. The Community Planning Tables will nominate a subcommittee to review the proposals and make recommendations on the final decision (subject to provincial funding).
- Phase 2 includes:
- Implement Five Year PACT Pilot Project which includes response teams activated across the City.
Engagement of key stakeholders
We are seeking your feedback and engagement throughout the first year to help develop the plan for the 5 year pilot project. The challenges we face present a unique opportunity to advance public safety and security away from its colonial and paternalistic structures, in favour of a model that is solidly built on the values of compassion, social justice and inclusion.
We look forward to speaking with you.