A new co-ordinated "community health" strategy is in the works for Winnipeg and it will help address a long-standing issue of police officers taking on social responsibilities which fall outside the traditional purview of law-enforcement, the city's police chief said today.
While declining to offer specifics, Winnipeg Police Service Chief Devon Clunis said talks and "practical" discussions with community partners have been underway behind the scenes on the new strategy.
"It will be a comprehensive approach to policing and community health in the City of Winnipeg," Clunis said, adding some of its various pieces are already up and running.
Clunis was responding to questions at a Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police news conference in Winnipeg, at which the CACP called on government of all stripes to "step up" and provide adequate care and resources for the mentally ill.
Winnipeg police have, in the past, taken on too much responsibility for dealing with city social problems, Clunis said. "We can't do it on our own."
Clunis hinted the new model would involve LiveSafe, a crime-prevention strategy the city began work on in 2008 and involved consultation with senior government staffers and community agencies.
Components of LiveSafe included adding family and life-skills resource hubs in high-risk neighbourhoods and an expansion of free recreational resources for youth.
CACP President and Vancouver Police Department Chief Const. Jim Chu said police are being called on as the first-call resource to deal with mentally ill people who may be a danger to themselves or others.
"That's wrong for these people who deserve better care," he said.
It's government and the public health system which bear the onus of dealing with the mentally ill in the first place, he said.
Police across Canada have taken steps to improve training on how officers interact with the mentally ill, Chu said.
But its time for government to take back the responsibility for health services in hopes of preventing crises situations from unfolding in the first place.
Hundreds of CACP delegates were meeting in Winnipeg this week to discuss and vote on proposals which they believe represent "progressive change" for policing in Canada. The conference concludes this afternoon.