Is Abbotsford’s Police Department Capable Of Dealing With Homelessness or Drug Addiction?
By Mike Archer. In this series we look at the role of first responders, more particularly the APD, in the larger social issues surrounding mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness which have taken center stage in Abbotsford. We will ask whether or not it is even appropriate to ask the police to play such a central role in the dealing with the many issues surrounding homelessness.
Cover photo: The ceremonial TeePee at the heart of the protest camp of the Abbotsford Chapter of the BC/Yukon Drug War Survivors – the longest protest in BC history – stands opposite the Mennonnite Central Committee (MCC) building on Gladys Avenue. The TeePee has since burned down in the year-and-a-half since the protest began. [Bas Stevens photo.
We will look at training opportunities for first responders, especially the police, we will ask how the APD has managed to play such a significant role in dealing with homelessness, for such a long time, with so little training in dealing with the people it has targeted for enforcement.
We have spoken to two well-known individuals in the fields of mental illness, drug addiction and homelessness; and, we have asked for the input of Fraser Health with specific reference to its ‘Moments to Milestones’ video** on first responders and those who suffer from addiction and/or mental illness which was released late in 2014.
We hope to encourage a community discussion about the ways we have tried, and in some cases failed, to solve some of the toughest issues facing society today, and, in the process, contribute to the healing process and the search for solutions which work for the entire community – not just those who measure up to the sometimes unrealistic moral, medical and behavioural standards of a powerful local minority.
While there are strong opinions about how best to approach these issues, some have proven to work, others have not. We hope to help Abbotsford move forward based on best practices, science, medicine and fact in helping our most marginalized citizens.
We have asked APD Chief Constable Bob Rich to participate but have not heard back. We’ll let you know when we do. Chief Rich and the APD have stated publicly that they will not engage in discussions with Abbotsford Today or, apparently, even respond to our offers to explain themselves. To find out why simply click here.
- Between A Rock And A Hard Place – Intro
- Between A Rock And A Hard Place – Part One; Fraser Health
- Between A Rock And A Hard Place – Part 2; Ann Livingston
- Between A Rock And A Hard Place – Part 3; An Interview With Gord Bylo
Tell us what you think. Use the comments box below or send us an email at editor@Todaymedia.ca.
Between A Rock And A Hard Place – What The Experts Say
How can science, research, training and the experience of others help the APD to move forward and reivent itself?
In thi series we’ve tried to move beyond simply blaming and criticising Chief Bob Rich, his senior officers or those who have participated in the actions of which the community is so ashamed.
We’ve reached out to people who know how badly things can go when you criminalise social behaviour, mental illness and drug addiction.
In Part 4 we look at what the APD can do to fix itself. We have assembled excerpts and links to reports, articles and resources which detail, in very stark terms, what lies ahead of we continue on the path set by the APD.
We also hope to provide hope for the officers who dare not speak out about actions they have been required to take or behaviour they find repulsive in their private lives. Some of the APD and civic leaders will find below lays out a way forward based on caring, understanding, law, science and facts.
Despite Chief Rich’s unwillingness to talk to us about this or any other policing issues in Abbotsford we hope he reads this series and this specific entry precisely because it lays out a way for him to lead our police force to a better place.
Mental Health Commission of Canada
Starting in 2007, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), through its Mental Health and the Law Advisory Committee (MHLAC), undertook a series of projects related to police interactions with people with mental illnesses (PMI).1
There has been a significant increase in the number of such interactions over recent years and, concomitantly, increased concerns about some of the outcomes. While most interactions between police and PMI are resolved successfully, a few have resulted in negative outcomes, including the death of the person with the mental illness. The overall goal of the MHCC projects was to identify ways to increase the likelihood of these interactions having positive outcomes–that is, better outcomes for all involved.
These projects included:
• A review of police academy/basic training education in regard to mental illness;
• A review of in-service level education;
• An extensive study of the experience of people with mental illnesses with police, including their recommendations for
changes in education and practice; and
• Guidelines for police services, in regard to their interactions with the mental health system
The present report is focused only on police education and training, rather than on the broader systems and policies that affect interactions between police and people with mental illnesses; it addresses education and training in the broadest sense. As the preface to the 2010 report, Police Interactions with Persons with a Mental Illness: Police Learning in the Environment of Contemporary Policing, stated:
No matter how well designed and complete a curriculum is, it will only result in improved outcomes if the learning engages the right people and in the right context. Thus, in this paper, attention is also paid to contextual factors—not only what should we teach, but also to whom should we teach and in conjunction with what other organizational structures and social systems (p. 5).
The present report places an emphasis on HOW we should teach as well as what we should teach, given the many developments in the field of adult education and curriculum design. That is, how can we better prepare police personnel for interactions with PMI?[source]
The Evidence on Displacement[excerpt] Universal assertions that displacement inevitably occurs in the aftermath of problem-led policing efforts are largely based on unfounded suppositions rather than empirical facts.7 Research has consistently found that crime displacement is the exception rather than the rule and that diffusion of benefits is just as likely and sometimes more likely to occur. In cases where some displacement occurs it tends to be less than the gains achieved by the response. Familiarizing yourself with this research allows you to justify your efforts to potential critics particularly during the early stages of your project before you’ve assessed displacement and diffusion effects of your own.
One of the most comprehensive reviews of the extent of displacement among evaluations of situational-focused crime prevention projects, conducted in 2008 by Guerette and Bowers, found that displacement and diffusion are equally likely to occur. Table 1 presents some of the results from this analysis (See Appendix A for more information). Displacement tends be observed in 26 percent of the instances where it is examined, and diffusion is observed 27 percent of the time. This research also suggests that of the different types, temporal displacement is most common (occurring 36 percent of the time), followed by target (33 percent), offense (26 percent), spatial (23 percent), and tactical (22 percent). As for diffusion, spatial diffusion seems to be most common (occurring 37 percent of the time) followed by target (24 percent), offense and temporal (each at 16 percent), and tactical (12 percent).
Police and Mental Illness[excerpt] It is important to recognize at the outset that mental illness is not, in and of itself, a police problem. Obviously, it is a medical and social services problem. However, a number of the problems caused by or associated with people with mental illness often do become police problems. These include crimes, suicides, disorder, and a variety of calls for service. Moreover, the traditional police response to people with mental illness has often been ineffective, and sometimes tragic.
All cases of schizophrenia (a psychotic disorder)
- Severe cases of major depression and bipolar disorder (mood disorders)
- Severe cases of panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (anxiety disorders)
- Severe cases of attention deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (typically, a childhood disorder)
- Severe cases of anorexia nervosa (an eating disorder)
Over the last decade, many police agencies have sought to improve their response to incidents involving people with mental illness, especially emergency mental health situations. These new developments, however, have been targeted almost exclusively at improved handling of individual incidents. Little attention has been devoted to developing or implementing a comprehensive and preventive approach to the issue.
Cops and Addiction
[excerpt] Cops and addiction are two words that do not go well together. However, they’ve been a part of police culture for many years. I spent almost 20 years in law enforcement with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the Kirkland (Washington) Police Department. I served in many different capacities; field training officer, gang officer, D.A.R.E. instructor, school resource officer, homicide detective and my final assignment… drug addict.
I now have 7 years of sobriety. I am all-too-familiar with substance abuse and addiction within the law enforcement community. We think addiction in our world exists only among those people we deal with and arrest every day on the street. However, it has been estimated through multiple studies that abuse and addiction among law enforcement officers runs somewhere between 20-25%. This figure is twice the national average of the general population; there are many reasons for this. I believe that before we address the problem, we need to define it first.
Drug Addicts Need Treatment say Police[excerpt] Addicts need treatment if the war on drugs is to be won, Britain’s top police officers said in a report today [13/02/2015).
The Association of Chief Police Officers said, in some circumstances, treatment should be considered instead of a conviction.
The report, published today, follows a major review of the police stance on tackling drugs and comes six months after Home Secretary David Blunkett called for a relaxation on laws surrounding cannabis.
It said success in tackling drugs was “more likely to be achieved through treatment programmes that seek to manage prolific offenders” while still targeting dealers.
Other ResourcesIn addition to what we have found and published above, in his inspiring piece for this series [Part 3; Interview with Gord Bylo], the Delta father was kind enough to provide links to resources and materials the APD might find very useful:
- Best Practices – Concurrent Mental Health and Substance Use Disorders
- Human Rights Code
- Mental Health and Substance Use in British Columbia/
- Mental Health and Substance Use in British Columbia
- RCMP Mental Health Strategy (2014-2019)
Where To From Here?
We also asked Gord Bylo for his advice to us as a community. Here is what he suggested:
- Explain addiction is a not by choice but an illness
- Insist that healthcare treat every concurrent disordered person the police deliver to the ER
- Enforce section 8.1 of BC Human Rights that states all citizens will receive treatment
- Recognize that addiction is an illness usually accompanied by other mental illness
- Show compassion
- Arrest people who assault this vulnerable group
- Institute a mental health court to divert people from justice to healthcare
- Create a Car 67 mental health police team
- Train the police more about recognizing MI people and what to do. Don’t shoot them!
- Insist healthcare, justice and the city all work together on the project. All stakeholders must own and be responsible for a piece of the new solution
- Assure all stakeholders work on this change initiative. They must or you will end up with no progress. All in!
- Educate the public. Get some stories from affected families – the real stuff. And of course the MI themselves
- Make NIMBY a crime! or don’t discriminate
It seems well enough established at this point that criminalizing social behaviour, mental illness, drug addiction and poverty the way they have been criminalized in Abbotsford has been a failure.
We’ve at least established that sending cops and bylaw officers after the mentally ill, the poor and the addicted and harassing them in the hopes they will move elsewhere has not worked.
Poisoning their place of refuge with chicken feces turned out to be a bad decision and may prove to have been an illegal act commited by City employees and covered up/ignored by police. No one was ever charged and, to our knowledge, no one was ever investigated for criminal charges as a result of the Chicken Manure Incident
Other than the hiring of one officer to help in cases involving the mentally ill, we are not aware of any special training program that the City or the the APD has arranged which might teach officers from Chief Bob Rich and his senior officers who showed such disrespect and disregard for the dignity of the men and women who were victims of the incident [demeaning emails shared by police chief Bob Rich], right down to the beat cops who who have been made responsible for enacting Rich’s policy of ‘displace and disperse’ and enforcing an interpretation of the criminal code which is outside the law.
Surely it has become clear by now that the APD must be taken off the homeless beat and properly trained, from top to bottom, in how to enforce the law – not the local interpretation of it – with compassion, care and understanding for the poor, the mentally ill, the addicted and the homeless.
It at least seems like a starting point.
Short Summary of Abbotsford’s Homeless Crisis:
First came John Smith’s announcement to the national media that he had instructed the APD to handle homelessness in downtown Abbotsford; then the Abbotsford Shuffle – otherwise known as Chief Bob Rich’s “disperse and displace” strategy for solving homelessness; then Mayor Banman’s Chicken Manure Incident (first revealed on Abbotsford Today); then there was the Standoff in Jubilee; followed by the ‘MCC Dignity Village‘ protest camp on Gladys Avenue and the gathering of more and more of Abbotsford’s homeless to the security of living with others and out in the open in the growing size and number of camps across from the Salvation Army and along Gladys Avenue.
Along the way a few embarrassing revelations were uncovered and published by Abbotsford Today including
the fact that the Salvation Army knew about and was in agreement with the use of chicken feces to encourage the homeless to move from their camp across the street from the Sally Ann; and the rude and demeaning emails shared by police chief Bob Rich and his senior staff after the Chicken Manure Incident went worldwide.
Editor’s Note: We have sent all of our questions to APD Chief Constable Bob Rich but have, as of publication, not heard back. Chief Rich and the APD have stated publicly that they will not engage in discussions with Abbotsford Today. To find out why simply click here.