FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – A new program is coming to Fort St. John that will see RCMP paired with health care professionals to respond to mental health and substance abuse related calls.

Mayor Lori Ackerman announced Monday during a Regular Council Meeting that a deal between the FSJ RCMP and Northern Health for the Car 60 program has been reached.

The program will have an officer and a mental health professional travel around in an unmarked police vehicle while responding to specific calls.

“What’s happened in the past is that the general duty police officer responded to such calls and then would transport that person to the hospital and could often spend several hours with that person at the hospital while they were being assessed and treated by healthcare professionals,” says Ackerman.

Only two clinicians are currently available for the program and will work limited hours, says Ackerman. After three months, the program will be reviewed to see if more shifts are needed.

“We’ve been waiting for it for a while because not all calls need to be treated in that enforcement way. It’s just a different way of doing business.”

Earlier this year, the detachment started exploring how to bring the program to the Energetic City. Fort St. John RCMP commander Insp. Tony Hanson, who led the program in Prince George, said they saw huge success.

“There’s a lot of criticism of police in society today about the way we deal with the mentally ill,” said Hanson in March. “And you know, they’re not wrong in the sense that we are not medical professionals, we are not social workers, we are not trained psychiatric professionals, nor did we ask to be.”

“But we are the safety net in our society. When there’s nobody else to call, you call the police.”

Last year, Fort St. John RCMP responded to 343 mental health related calls, up from 256 calls five years ago in 2016.