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To: Toronto Police Services Board and John Tory
Expanding the role of Toronto's mental health crisis intervention teams
This campaign has ended.
Dear Toronto Police Services Board,
On August 18th you will be discussing Alternative Community Safety Response Models. This is an opportunity to substantially improve the lives of Toronto citizens by expanding the role and scale of mental health crisis intervention teams (MCITs) in Toronto.
I am asking you to improve the efficacy of our approach to mental health crises by expanding the role of MCITs in Toronto in the following ways:
- Make MCITs first responders. They are currently secondary responders, but to be effective they must be the first point of contact. First contact on mental health calls is critical for de-escalating the situation, and standard officers are not properly trained for this, leading to unnecessary force and, in extreme cases, violence.
- MCITs should be radioed for any mental health calls, in case even if they are unable to physically be at the scene they can provide guidance to untrained officers who are present.
- Toronto needs more MCITs, to be able to handle the number of mental health calls received. Toronto received 30,000 mental health calls last year and MCITs responded to 7,000, ideally we would have at least 3x as many MCITs to be able to handle the demand.
These are not novel proposals, they have been made before, and were all in fact part of the original proposal for MCITs . I am asking you to act on them on August 18th. Below, I expand on some of the supporting evidence for each of these points.
MCITs need their status changed to first responders. Currently, they are secondary responders only allowed onto a scene when other officers, untrained with mental health crises give the all-clear. The 2014 independent report ‘Police encounters with people in crisis’ , which cites the Memphis and Hamilton mental health crisis intervention teams as examples of successful first responder teams, originally called for the MCITs to be first responders but they have been made secondary responders due to fear of safety. The success of the Memphis and Hamilton teams as first responders provides evidence to the contrary, as well as statistical analysis showing that individuals with mental health issues are less likely to engage in violence than healthy members of the population . As a well trained team the MCIT are best prepared to safely de-escalate mental health crisis situations and prevent avoidable incidents of violence.
We need more MCITs. While the number of mental health calls to 911 has increased from ~20k in 2013 to over 30k in 2019, the MCIT response stayed in the ~5k to ~7k range. Additionally, MCITs currently only operate 11am to 11pm , but mental health calls can happen at any hour of the day. There needs to be sufficient staffing to allow this. The number of response teams needs to be increased to the point that all of the mental health calls to 911 can be handled by MCITs.
The official protocol needs to be that MCITs are altered over radio for every mental health call. Even if they are not available to respond, they may be able to provide expert guidance to officers with no training for handling such stressful situations. While MCITs will likely be unable to be physically present as the first point of contact for all mental health calls, they can still help to de-escalate situations that would otherwise result in violence.
If there are barriers to any of these proposals, I'd love for you to share your insights so that the TPSB and the community can work together to resolve them. I would be happy to discuss and provide you with resources showing you strong evidence supporting all of them for your consideration. There is strong community support of these actions from people who are intimately familiar with the current system [3, 4], this is a real chance to inspire the city to believe that meaningful change is achievable inside our law enforcement system.
Thank you for your time,
Why is this important?
Mental health calls are largely handled by untrained officers who don't have the skills to de-escalate crisis situations. This leads to unnecessary violence and killing of people in crisis, of which poor and IBPOC are largely overrepresented.
In cities where mental health crisis teams are properly implemented, they provide clear benefits, including:
- reducing carceral costs,
- reducing the incidents of violence from the police,
- reducing repeat calls for service,
- reducing costly psychiatric hospitalizations, and
- improving the use of officers’ time .