Andresen and Wilfrid Laurier University assistant professor Tarah Hodgkinson analyzed mental health-related calls from 13 police jurisdictions across Canada from March 2019 to November 2021.
Researchers looked at calls for property and violent crimes, which decreased in almost all jurisdictions. One notable exception was London, Ontario where violent crime increased by 30 percent during the pandemic.
The team found that Mental Health Act apprehensions increased in 10 out of 13 police services with the exception of Calgary and Regina. Apprehensions are made by police officers when individuals are considered a danger to themselves or others, and result in a medical assessment at a medical facility.
Ontario Provincial Police, Royal Newfoundland Constabulary, Toronto, and Waterloo Region all recorded statistically significant increases in Mental Health Act (MHA) apprehensions (47, 12, 10, and 13 percent respectively). Meanwhile researchers found an almost complete lack of MHA apprehensions in Vancouver reported to Statistics Canada.
They generally found no increases in calls to police for suicide or suicide attempts during COVID-19 with statistically significant decreases in Halton Region, Toronto, Vancouver and York Region.
However, calls to police categorized as mental health (other) increased in Toronto, Regina, and Ottawa. In particular, researchers found a large-magnitude increase in volume for Toronto.
Instead of dedicating additional funding to police services during a crisis, researchers suggest income supports and support for those struggling with addictions in vulnerable and marginalized communities will help address the mental health issues reducing the need for police assistance.