COLUMN: Delta police reach out to those with mental illness

Police are seeing a drastic increase in calls for service where mental health and addiction issues are the underlying problem.

Mental illness touches every one of us in some way. Often hidden from the public eye, many people deal with depression and anxiety, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, dementia, Alzheimer’s and many other disorders without help.

We may recognize symptoms in ourselves or a family member, but the harsh reality is that there simply are not enough resources for those that need it.

As front-line workers, police are seeing a drastic increase in calls for service where mental health and addiction issues are the underlying problem.

It has become so prevalent that Delta Police Department created the Community Health Intervention Program (CHIP) with a vision to reduce suffering and avoid criminalizing people who need medical rather than police attention. The program includes a formalized partnership between Delta Mental Health, Fraser Health Authority and Delta Police.

Const. Danny Simone has worked as the CHIP officer since the program began in 2008. At the inception of CHIP, we estimated Const. Simone would work with 10 to 15 high-risk clients. The reality is the program handles an average of 775 files per year with half of those needing longer-term attention.

For this column, I felt it was appropriate to hear directly from Const. Simone:

“My experience in this position has shown me that people with mental illness, and their families, suffer immensely in our communities,” says Simone. “What we try to accomplish with our outreach visits is to support a person in managing their mental illness. We know they would rather be experiencing anything other than what they are going through. Although we can’t ‘fix’ mental illness and addiction with our work, we take satisfaction in knowing that we can try and put things right for the moment.

“Some individuals suffering from mental health issues deal with high-frequency police contact. This is very stressful for the person and is not an efficient use of police resources. We strategize around hard-to-serve clients and work with our community partners to develop care plans. If police are called regarding a client who has a care plan in place, the attending officer will refer to the information to ensure a consistent and appropriate line of care is applied.

“I believe CHIP has been an invaluable program for the communities of Delta. The ability for Delta Mental Health and Delta Police to have a close working relationship has ensured that treatment approaches for clients are consistent and compassionate. Many of our hard-to-reach clients would otherwise fall through the cracks if not for this program. I signed up to be a Delta Police officer because I want to make a difference. As busy and demanding as this program can be, I know our work improves the lives of clients and their families.”

My thoughts go out to those people who are suffering from mental health issues or have a family member or friend who deal with mental illness in their lives.

Jim Cessford is chief of the Delta Police Department and has spent more than 40 years in law enforcement.

Surrey Now Leader

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