Chan says every time she has requested Car 24, uniformed officers have arrived instead. (Gian-Paolo Mendoza / CBC)
The lack of service led MacIntyre to write a letter to mayor and council in May on behalf of Vancouver agencies, saying that delays in service from Car 72 put staff and clients at risk.
In the letter, MacIntyre expressed alarm over learning that an “urgent” response time for Car 19 was considered to be anything within 11 hours, and he called for that timeline to be reduced to hours)
“I was concerned about the impact of them not showing up,” he told CBC. “We do not call Car 19 unless we deem it to be necessary.”
MacIntyre was pleasantly surprised by the response. VPD and Vancouver Coastal Health immediately put together a committee with housing providers and other stakeholders and began adding resources, including Car 87. The committee now reviews individual cases to see what could have been done better.
“I honestly have seen an improvement… and some responsiveness that I have not experienced in the past,” MacIntyre said.
But he added that it’s not yet where it should be – and there’s been no change to that 19 – hour urgent response time.
‘We do not have the resources’
Vancouver police spokesperson Sgt. Steve Addison said there are usually about 87 calls a month for Car 24 and several reasons why it might not be available.
“Sometimes Car 19 or 87 is not available because they’re on another call or they’re at the hospital on a mental health apprehension or they’re off shift because it’s the middle of the night, “he said.
He explained that dispatchers have to make an assessment for each call to determine how high the priority should be. Sometimes if there’s an imminent risk of violence, Addison said the best option might be uniformed police officers.
“Bottom line is we have two cars that are on the road on any given day, and it takes time for them to properly do their job,” he said.
“We’d love to be able to send Car 19 or Car 24 to all of those calls, but in a lot of cases, they’re just not available because we do not have the resources. “
In Chan’s experience, when Car 19 has not been available, uniformed police respond to her home instead.
She says she has no complaints about the VPD officers who’ve shown up at her door. The ones she’s dealt with have been well trained and compassionate, and some have been truly excellent at de-escalating a potentially dangerous situation.
But Chan points out that police officers have different priorities than mental health professionals. Their job is to enforce the law, not to get people proper health care.
She experienced the conflict between those priorities one night in September when she called to request Car after) arranging for her daughter to be admitted to hospital. When uniformed police arrived instead, the officers saw there was a court order forbidding Chan’s daughter from being at her house.
“They refused to take her to hospital. They took her to jail,” Chan said.
Her daughter spent the night behind bars, an arrangement that Chan says could have had serious consequences.
“She could harm herself or she could harm someone else. She was put into further distress when she was already distressed,” Chan said.
She’d like to see urgent mental health matters taken out of the hands of the police whenever possible.
“People are calling for defunding the police, I do not call for that,” Chan said.
“What I call for is de-tasking the police. They are being asked to do a job which is really, really difficult to do, that they have not really been trained to do.”