Policing in Medicine Hat is evolving from what was traditionally been thought of as simply the role of conducting law enforcement activities and keeping the peace. Although these remain two important functions of policing there is much more going on than meets the eye. The Medicine Hat Police Service has been evolving its role to include delivering community-oriented policing initiatives in partnership with other community agencies.
Over the past five years, the MHPS has significantly increased the number of integrated community partnerships to more effectively respond to the myriad of complex social issues that we are experiencing in the community. Some of these partnerships include the embedding health care professionals and social workers within the police service. These new partnerships share office spaces, their expertise and resources with the police service to ensure future harm reduction strategies are utilized and clients in crisis are diverted away from the justice system and get the help they need.
Some of these collaborative partnerships include Alberta Health Services, The Medicine Hat Woman’s Shelter Society, Child Family Services and most recently, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) with the program Addictions Crisis Team (ACT).
A significant number of people who end up in conflict with the criminal justice system first come to the attention of the MHPS as they find themselves in some form of crisis which is often compounded by their substance abuse issues. In the Juristat Article—Mental Health and Contact with Police in Canada, (2012), it discusses the results of a survey that shows that we are not unique in Medicine Hat, as this is a Canada wide issue in policing. The article reports through the survey results that approximately 5 million, or one in five (18.4%) Canadians aged 15 and older reported coming into contact with police in the 12 months prior to the survey being completed. Of those 5 million Canadians who came into contact with police, 18.8% also met the criteria for having a mental health or a substance use disorder.
Our most recent partnership is with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) on the creation of an Addictions Crisis Team (ACT). The CMHA has two addiction crisis workers deployed in the community. One of the addictions clinicians works in community outreach while the other works directly with a police officer in the police station. The clinician each morning connects with those persons who have been in a crisis and have addiction issues. These clients have just entered the criminal justice by way of an arrest for some type of criminal activity in the previous evening. Prior to the client being released from custody the clinician will meet the client in the cell block to do an assessment and to offer the provision of services that may be of need.
The goal is to provide high quality, prompt, and relevant assistance and support to people in crisis. It is also a means by which MHPS and ACT can ensure it is providing inclusive and respectful policing services to all members of the community in crisis and/or suffering from an addiction issue. The new ACT partnership is a service that helps link those who come into contact with police and have substance abuse issues with the appropriate social service agency. It also provides referral services for shelters, detoxification, addiction treatment services, health needs, crisis counselling, advocacy and basic needs like food, housing and clothing.
As you can see, policing in Medicine Hat in 2018 is not outdated and unbalanced in its service provision. Rather, it is forward looking in its approach to provide a model that strives to meet the needs of the community, the police service, the justice system and those in crisis. The evolution of policing is constant and the new normal.
Inspector Tim McGough served six years in the British Army and started his career with the Medicine Hat Police Service in 1991. He has served in numerous units, including patrols, Tactical Team and the Special Operations Unit.