RCMP in Manitoba have a new tool to improve their response to mental health crises.
HealthIM, an application for computers and mobile devices, allows officers to input information about intoxication, emotional state, hallucinations and violence.
The application's brief mental health screener determines if someone is at risk of harming themselves or others, and informs officers' decisions on apprehension, a hospital visit or referral for community services.
"It's often a health problem and not a criminal problem, but we're the first contact," says Cpl. Nirmal Rukhra, who works at the RCMP's Portage la Prairie detachment. "This doesn't override an officer's judgement, but provides more information they may not have."
RCMP in Steinbach and Thompson, Man., and police in Winnipeg and Brandon are also using HealthIM.
Rukhra recalls responding to an individual threatening self-harm. After speaking with the person and family, and completing the HealthIM assessment, police determined that a hospital visit wasn't necessary and referred them to support programs.
"In the past, we may have been more cautious and taken them to hospital," he says, adding that the referrals ensure there will be follow up.
Assessments take minutes and include historic information such as a previously completed HealthIM evaluation.
If a person requires hospitalization, HealthIM sends a report directly to the health-care centre, improving communication between police and hospitals.
"For harm reduction, it's most beneficial to a person in crisis for that communication to happen," says Brendan Sheenan, HealthIM's director of operations. He adds that reports have information such as a person's sensitivity to touch and other factors, improving quality of care.
Since using HealthIM, police spend less time waiting in hospital with the person in crisis, which gives more time for other calls.
Nearly 20 police forces throughout Canada use HealthIM and that's expected to double this year.
The program applies an internationally accepted psychiatric assessment adapted by Ron Hoffman, a former police officer and professor.