In the next year, people in crisis in downtown Toronto who call 911 for help will be better connected to the appropriate mental health support they need.
Earlier this week, the Toronto Police Service (TPS) and Gerstein Crisis Center (GCC) launched a one-year 9-1-1 Call Diversion Pilot project.
This new service, which comes in response to calls from the mental health community to reform police efforts in this city, will now see crisis workers respond to non-emergency mental health-related emergencies instead of police officers.
The plan is to integrate GCC crisis workers into TPS ‘Communications Call Center for the next 12 months 20 hours a day, seven days a week.
Toronto police said these two teams will work “collaboratively but clearly” as TPS callers will assess whether calls from 51, 52 and 14 divisions have no imminent risk and are suitable for redirection.
During this pilot project, any conversation between a caller and a crisis worker will be protected under the Personal Health Data Protection Act.
Rachel Bromberg is the co-founder of the Reach Out Response Network, a coalition of stakeholders in Toronto that began work on building a civilian-led mental health emergency service in 2020.
For more than a year, her organization and 60 other local agencies have been sitting on the city’s Alternative Community Security Response Board, which aims to bring community leaders together to monitor and support the development and implementation of community-led security response models that do not require police presence or intervention.
She called the 911 pilot a “good move,” a move that would give people in crisis the appropriate mental health care they need and deserve.
“It’s really important to have the right people with the right tools to respond to specific circumstances,” she said, adding that a mental illness crisis is not a crime, it is a health problem.
“You would not call the police if you had a heart attack.”
In a news release on Nov. 2, Chief of Police James Ramer said this new initiative is part of the force’s work to implement Toronto Police Services Board 81 recommendations on police reform “through” new and innovative ways to better serve people in crisis. “
“Under the leadership of Deputy Chief of Police Peter Yuen, our members have worked with the Gerstein Center to support our common goal of an appropriate, effective and compassionate response for those experiencing a mental health crisis,” he said.
“It’s another way we work with our partners to better serve society.”