Fort St. John RCMP concerned about mental health and substance use calls

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FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Inspector Anthony Hanson, head of Fort St. John’s RCMP detachment, has expressed his concern over police involvement in mental health and substance use calls to the regional district directors.

Hanson updated the Peace River Regional District on crime and policing in the rural areas surrounding Fort St. John on Thursday.

Fort St. John and its rural areas saw 349 mental health act-related calls. Of these calls, 282 were within the city limits, and 67 were in rural areas. 

Police response to these calls, Hanson said, is far from ideal.

“Our society has to invest more in supports across the spectrum,” Hanson said. “Police are not mental health workers, not social workers, we’re not trained for that.”

The Car 60 program, which launched this spring, is an effort to respond to mental health calls with healthcare resources alongside police. In this program, a police officer and trained social worker attend mental health act-related calls together.

Police response to medical emergencies is not limited to calls under the mental health act. Hanson also expressed concern for the lack of support for people using substances—and suffering the effects of the current drug toxicity crisis.

There were seven counts of cocaine possession, six counts of cocaine trafficking, and six counts of fentanyl or other possession.

There were four drug overdose calls in rural Fort St. John and two fatal overdoses recorded.

“In essence, what the drug crisis has done is turn police officers into medical first responders,” Hanson said.

Police officers carry naloxone, Hanson mentioned, which can be used to reverse overdoses, but are not physicians nor paramedics. 

“Other levels of government have not brought the necessary levels of funding or care.”

Police are the last resort, Hanson said, and have had to fill in the gaps of care left by other levels of government. 

While the provincial government has decriminalized possession of 4.5 grams and less of controlled substances, Hanson does not expect this to shift operations on the ground extensively.

According to Hanson, prosecution for possession of small amounts of drugs has not been common for the last 15 years when not in connection with a more serious crime. 

There were a total of 11,672 calls for service from the Fort St. John RCMP last year. Of these calls, 2,984 were in rural areas, and 8,688 were within the city limits.

Criminal code offenses in the rural region that the detachment serves were slightly up from last year, at 807 from 786. Of these offenses, 191 were person-related, 385 were property related, and 85 were categorized as “other.”

There were 159 impaired drivers caught over the last year. There were 340 accidents reported in rural Fort St. John, three of which were fatal and 61 of which injured someone involved. The rest were reported for insurance to cover damages. 

Person-related offenses in rural Fort St. John were spread between common assault at 81 cases last year, threats at 63 counts, aggravated assault or assault with a weapon at 28 counts, sex offenses at 17, and assault of a police officer at 3.

Violence in relationships included spousal disputes at 41 occurrences, spousal abuse at 8 counts, spousal assault at 36 cases, and other spousal violence at 22 cases.

Property crimes over the last year in the detachment’s rural area included three counts of arson, 50 break and enters into businesses, and 24 break and enters into residences.

There were 34 counts of vehicle theft (most commonly vehicles from industrial sites, including Site C) and 18 counts of thefts from vehicles. Theft from vehicles has been dropping for the last five years.

Hanson presented the RCMP’s annual report to the City of Fort St. John in June.

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