Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team

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As part of Social Services Awareness Week, the Sault Ste. Marie Police Service is releasing a video on its Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team (MCRRT).

The MCRRT serves as the Sault Police’s mental health crisis response unit. It’s a collaboration between the police and the Sault Area Hospital. The unit consists of a uniformed police officer and a crisis staff member. A registered nurse or social worker is the crisis staff member.

“It’s beneficial to have a crisis service worker along because if the person is in crisis, the crisis worker is trained in skills in de-escalation, supportive measures as well as the ability to refer clients to agencies within the community that would be supportive,” says Eva Torresan, Patient Care Manager at Sault Area Hospital.

Sault Ste Marie Police Constable Mark Virtanen is one of eight officers on the team. He says in the past, an officer would apprehend the person in crisis and bring them to the hospital for an assessment.

“Now, we can do that assessment right in the community and make a determination whether that person needs to go to hospital,” says Virtanen.

By: Mike McDonald, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

2 COMMENTS

  1. Around 30 years ago, Eugene, Oregon, a city of 172,000, retrofitted an old van, staffed it with young medics and mental health counsellors and sent them out to respond to the kinds of 911 calls that would previously have meant police intervention.

    They were the first responders for mental health crises, domestic disturbances, homelessness, substance abuse, threats of suicide – the problems for which there are no easy fixes. The problems that, in the hands of police, have often turned violent and even sometimes fatal.

    Today, the program, called CAHOOTS, has three vans, more than double the number of staffers and the attention of a country in crisis.

    CAHOOTS stands for Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets. It’s a cute acronym, and intentionally meant to imply partnership with the police.

    CAHOOTS is already doing what police reform advocates say is necessary to fundamentally change the criminal justice system – pass off some responsibilities to unarmed civilians.

    Cities much larger and more diverse than Eugene have asked CAHOOTS staff to help them build their own version of the program. It’s a template for what it’s like to live in a city with a more limited police.

    It works this way: 911 dispatchers filter calls they receive – if they’re violent or criminal, they’re sent to police. If they’re within CAHOOTS’ purview, the van-bound staff will take the call.

    It always paired one medic, usually a nurse or EMT, with a crisis responder trained in behavioural health.

    CAHOOTS workers responded to 24,000 calls in 2019 – about 20% of total dispatches. About 100 of those required police backup.

    CAHOOTS saves the city about $8.5 million in public safety costs every year, plus another $14 million in ambulance trips and ER costs.

    It had to overcome mutual mistrust with police. There was “mutual mistrust” between them. It was an obstacle they had to overcome.

    And for the most part, both groups have: The Eugene Police Chief called theirs a “symbiotic relationship” that better serves the residents of Eugene.

    “When they show up, they have better success than police officers do,” he said. “We’re wearing a uniform, a gun, a badge – it feels very threatening for someone in crisis.”

    “I believe it’s time for law enforcement to quit being a catch-basin for everything our community and society needs,” the police chief said. “We need to get law enforcement professionals back to doing the core mission of protecting communities and enforcing the law, and then match resources with other services like behavioural health – all those things we tend to lump on the plate of law enforcement. CAHOOTS takes a big load off the shoulders of the police that they would rather not have.”

    Support continues to swell – CAHOOTS receives about $2 million a year.

  2. Most cities have been using mobile crisis response teams since the early 80s.
    Just another thing The Soo is ages behind on.

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