Regional Niagara Police Chief Bryan MacCulloch said he hopes a “crucially important” program will continue to be offered in southern Niagara communities, although funding for it will expire at the end of March.
The NRP’s Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team (MCRRT) program has been running in Welland and Pelham since April 1 as part of a year-long pilot, expanding the service that has been offered since 2015 in St. Catharines and Thorold, and Niagara Falls and Niagara -on the Lake since 2021.
The program pairs law enforcement officers with mental health professionals from the Niagara branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to respond to calls involving people with mental health issues.
Although funding for the pilot by the Attorney General’s Department will end on March 31, MacCulloch told police services chiefs Thursday he hoped success to date in Welland and Pelham will help it continue in those communities.
He said the need for the program is “particularly important” in Welland and Pelham “due to the relative scarcity of mental health resources … compared to other larger cities”.
MacCulloch said teams have responded to 260 calls in the Welland and Pelham area so far, and on 186 of those calls, team members have been able to help people without arresting them and taking them to hospitals.
He said the program instead connects people “struggling with a range of mental health issues” with appropriate community support services, while reducing the impact on police resources.
“Mental Health Act arrests routinely tie up two officers for sometimes well over an hour while they wait for the hospital to assess and admit the patient,” MacCulloch said.
“The MCRRT program remains an example of the synergy that occurs when police and mental health professionals work together to do more in more situations than either could effectively handle alone.”
MacCulloch said the NRP and its partner agency CMHA Niagara remain optimistic that the provincial government will provide the funding needed to “continue to offer this vitally important program to residents of South Niagara.”
Police Services Board Member Tara McKendrick, executive director of CMHA Niagara, said the program is also reducing the impact on Niagara’s already stressed hospital system.
When patients are diverted from hospitals through the efforts of team members, she said, “It has an impact on our entire community as each of us goes to the hospital emergency room.”
“That’s 186 visits that didn’t go to the emergency room, although historically the only option for our officers was to take them to the hospital. There’s definitely an influence there,” McKendrick said.
“I share optimism that in the future there will be an opportunity to continue this funding to keep it in District 3 (Welland and Pelham) given the recognized need and improved outcomes for individuals in the system, with the hospital being part of this system, and most importantly, the members of the community who come into contact with this system.”