Through their work with the Chilliwack RCMP’s Mental Health Liaison Unit, Cpl. James McConochie and Cst. Lindsey Peters are trying to improve relations between police and those with mental health issues. (Eric J. Welsh/ Chilliwack Progress)

Chilliwack RCMP officers find rewarding work in Mental Health Liaison Unit

Two officers are trying to bridge the gap between police and those with mental health issues

“There’s nothing more gratifying than seeing someone who was on the street who is now succeeding in supportive housing, when most people around that person thought they could never succeed,” Cst. Lindsey Peters says. ” It’s great knowing that we’ve helped give that person a chance.”

The ‘we’ Peters refers to is herself and Cpl. James McConochie — two police officers who are working hard to improve RCMP relations with those who suffer from mental illness.

Known as the Mental Health Liaison Unit, they are a unit of two.

But they have a lot of help.

The officers interact with community partners, and together they formulate a plan to aid people who are frequently accessing RCMP services because of mental health issues.

“A big part of what we do is showing them that going through the police doesn’t necessarily mean you are going to end up in a hospital or in jail,” McConochie says. “We can be that positive light that people are looking for. We can get them the help that they need. We can be that connection to other services that are out there.”

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It sounds idealistic, and comes at a time when the RCMP has received bad press for its handling of some mental health situations.

But in the short time the veteran officers (24 years experience between them) have been in this role — just over a year for both — they’ve seen some major success.

“For me it’s a very satisfying position because you’re helping people and you can see the results,” Peters says. “There are a lot of people who have been touched negatively by police, and we want to put a positive spin on that for that person. We want to help that person.

“I think there’s amazing work to be done, and certainly there’s a lot of work to be done as far as connecting people with the right resources,” McConochie adds.

That is the essence of what the officers do.

They have a list of people they liaise with through ICM (Intensive Case Management) teams formed by the Fraser Health Authority.

“That’s through the hospital and RainCity Housing, and a lot of that is getting homeless people with addiction issues off the street and into housing. We’ll take phone calls from them where it’s, ‘Hey, we’re looking for so-and-so. Have you had any contact with them lately?’

“If there’s a concern, if there’s Mental Health Act warrant issued for them them, we’ll try and bring them to the hospital so we can put a plan in place to help that person.”

The job includes a lot of meetings and phone calls.

“We’re also on the road a lot and you very rarely see us in the office,” Peters says. “Whenever we can, we try to join front-line officers at a call to find out what the client wants or needs. So often that question doesn’t get asked.

“If we’re there roadside, we can get that information, contact our partners and get the ball rolling, right then and there.”

They will also go to the hospital if that’s where a client ends up.

“We can paint a picture for hospital staff so they know what that person’s world looks like, so that person can receive the correct treatment that they need,” Peters says.

When dealing with mental health, success can be fleeting and failures plentiful. Some days, the job is really tough on McConochie and Peters. But they are optimistic people who have a passion for what they do.

“A small success, like getting someone off the street and into housing? That’s huge,” Peters says. “It’s those little successes that make us appreciate our job and the people we work with. There are a lot of great people in this community who sincerely care.”

“The successes might be less than we’d like, but it gives us an opportunity and a challenge to find a way to help the people we couldn’t help,” McConochie adds. “Maybe it takes two or three tries, but maybe on the third try we get through to them. I’d never call it failing. I would just say it’s an opportunity for re-thinking.”


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