Waterloo Region Police will receive $12.3 million in funding from the province, the majority of it going towards a crisis-call diversion program under the Community Engagement and Wellbeing Branch (CEWB).
That $9.3-million portion of the funding will create a triage system from mental health calls which will have mental health professionals in the communication centre screening and diverting calls for service.
The funding announced Tuesday by Kitchener-Conestoga MPP Mike Harris is part of $267 million that the province had previously earmarked for the Community Safety and Policing (CSP) Grant program in support of police departments across Ontario.
“When you look at the increasing needs for mental health related supports especially in the way that the WRPS interacts with the community as a whole, this really is going to go a long way to helping to bridge some of those gaps when we’re talking about specific units that are more well equipped to be able to deal with mental health needs,” said Harris in an interview.
“This is going to be a very big game changer for the region…The kind of default when people are experiencing mental health issues or when you’re in a situation as maybe the caller of 9-1-1 or a bystander who’s watching kind of the first response is to say, ‘Oh, we better call the police’ and they become sort of the default people that have to deal with these issues,” Harris said.
“This investment by the Ontario government will support our police service in its mission to deliver effective policing services to Waterloo Region and strengthen public safety and community wellbeing,” said Chief Bryan Larkin in a press release.
The CEWB funding will “ensure further proactive upstreaming for those who require collaborative community support,” he added.
“Supporting our community by ensuring people can access the right services at the right time is critical and this funding will help in doing just that,” said Cambridge Mayor Kathryn McGarry in the release.
“By embedding mental health professionals in initial interactions, Waterloo Region Police Service can offer assistance in connecting the dots for many at their most vulnerable.”
Harris said the latest announcement isn’t about simply giving more money to police, stressing that the funding is not going to general policing and is specially targeted to mental health needs.
“The police service in Waterloo Region is an important part of the community of that network of what we need to do to be able to help people and this money goes to specific programs. And like it or not, they’re going to be part of the equation as we go forward. But it’s an all-community approach,” he said.
The rest of the funding includes $1.5 million for gang and hate crime intelligence and enforcement and $1.5 million for the police services board.