All police officers across Ontario receive mental health training as a core component of their law enforcement education. As we continue to learn more about mental health issues, this training will continue to evolve.
“One change that we have recently made is reaching out to mental health professionals to help with our training,” said Brantford Police Sgt. Jason Saunders. “This year we approached various mental health agencies and asked them to help design judgment scenarios that we can use during our annual training.”
Mental health training within police foundations courses provides police officers with the ability to properly assess the level of danger when an individual is having a mental health crisis. The Ontario provincial government has stated that all officers must undergo 12 hours of mental health training, but some parts of the province do even more. In Brantford alone, the amount of training has been boosted to 16 hours, with extra time dedicated to mental health, de-escalation and after care. Also new this year, all front line officers will be equipped with Tasers, which have become commonplace as an alternative to lethal force.
Let’s take a look at some other measures that have been taken towards understanding mental health, and the evolution of mental health training for police officers.
The Brief Mental Health Screener
As of last spring, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have begun using a screening tool developed at the University of Waterloo called the Brief Mental Health Screener (BMHS). The tool is used to assess mental health issues and is designed to improve transitions from police custody to hospital care.
The BMHS is a standardized, science-based assessment that helps officers respond better to people experiencing a mental health crisis, and also helps them communicate better with healthcare professionals in hospitals. Earning a police foundations diploma equips new recruits with the ability to use the BMHS assessment, along with other restorative justice tools and approaches.
New Mental Health Approaches
Under most circumstances, students taking police foundations training will learn that it is best to speak calmly and offer help to distressed individuals. But if a situation is critical, officers must know how to address the problem with the appropriate approach and within legal boundaries. A recent Canadian Police/Mental Health subcommittee publication states that all training should include:
- the understanding and identification of mental illnesses
- how to communicate with persons experiencing mental health crises
- how to use defusing and de-escalation techniques
- how to assess suicidality
- how to assess risk and dangerousness
- issues related to stigma
- the role of the family
- how to access mental health services
- issues related to the use of force
How else can police officer training prepare future law enforcers to become leaders in mental health intervention?