Saskatoon’s police force must continue to fund and find time for employee training as it strengthens its ability to deal with mental health issues in the community and within its own ranks, according to the police superintendent behind its first mental health strategy.
The 10-page document suggests Saskatoon’s city police are “among the forefront” of Canadian police agencies in terms of dealing with mental health issues, but more training and education are needed, Mitch Yuzdepski said.
“It’s that competition for training hours and training days to get all of the people trained to the level we’d like them to be at,” he said, adding the strategy costs “hundreds of thousands” of the force’s almost $90 million annual budget.
Submitted this week to the Board of Police Commissioners, the mental health strategy outlines its approach to mental health issues and progress to date. It also acts as a “roadmap” for future improvements, Yuzdepski said.
About one-third of people with mental disorders eventually come into contact with police, according to the report. Yuzdepski said that means between five and 20 per cent of the roughly 70,000 calls officers respond to each year involve mental health issues.
Susan Saville, executive director of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Saskatoon branch, applauded the strategy and said the police force’s acknowledgment of mental health issues in the community and in its ranks could help further reduce the stigma.
“It’s a step in a very positive direction,” Saville said, adding that while funding is always difficult in times of fiscal restraint, the $90 million police budget could include more money for longer-term strategies like education and prevention.
“I think more time and energy invested into the illness, and the people with the illness, and meeting people’s basic needs … will eliminate some of the involvement of the law.”