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Crisis workers being added to Greater Sudbury’s 911 call centre

A provincially funded pilot program is expected to begin soon and will see four qualified crisis workers added to the city’s Emergency Communications Centre to deal with calls that would otherwise result in a police response

Four qualified crisis workers are being added to the city’s Emergency Communications Centre to handle mental health and addictions calls that might otherwise result in police intervention. 

“Lots of times these individuals are just looking to speak to someone, and it’s not necessarily a police response,” Greater Sudbury Police Service Deputy Chief Sara Cunninghman told “We often know that we're not the best people to be responding to these calls for service.”

Clinically trained crisis workers who specialize in mental health and addictions and abreast of the latest services available are typically what they’d be looking for, she added. 

The Crisis Call Diversion Program was announced earlier this month as part of a $6-million provincial investment in Greater Sudbury Police Service community safety programs. While much of these funds go toward extending existing programs, this program is new.

The $1.19 million budgeted toward the program is intended to stretch it to 2025, at which time Cunningham said they will evaluate how well the pilot effort performed. 

“If it’s a success we’ll build on it,” she said. 

The OPP is currently expanding its Crisis Call Diversion Program, and local police are enlisting their help to draft a job description Cunningham said they plan on posting soon in order to kick off the program sometime this year. 

The crisis workers will be embedded at the Emergency Communications Centre, which deals with police and fire calls to 911. As it stands, calls that relate to mental health and addictions issues that aren’t expressly police matters are responded to by a police officer.

“The officer will spend time with this individual, and that’s a service we’re happy to provide, but I think we as a police service need to look at being more effective and efficient at deploying our resources,” Cunningham said.

It’s ingrained in people to phone 911 when they are in a crisis situation, she said – “It’s an easy number, and people will call the police and we’re often not best-suited to respond.”

In some cases, crisis workers might be able to deal with these situations over the phone, during which they could refer them to relevant services and agencies, which Cunningham said is a common request. The city’s Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team, staffed by similarly trained crisis workers through Health Sciences North, might also attend the scene in person. In the event they’re unavailable, the call centre’s crisis worker might attend. 

In addition to providing people experiencing a mental health or addictions crisis with more relevant service in situations where a police presence isn’t necessary, Cunningham said the addition of crisis workers will also free up police officers to deal with issues more in line with their training, such as Criminal Code offenses and proactive patrols.

“All the stuff we’re spread so thin in being able to respond to,” she said. “This is allowing our officers to do front-line policing.”

The Crisis Call Diversion Program was announced during the April 20 Greater Sudbury Police Services Board meeting, at which the chair, Al Sizer, commended the program as “great news” for the community.

“This certainly raises the bar as to what kind of a service we can provide,” he said.

The Crisis Call Diversion Program is currently being expanded throughout the province. The OPP began adopting the program throughout the province last year following what was deemed a successful pilot program in London. 

During this pilot, between Nov. 2, 2020, and June 6, 2021, crisis workers engaged in 478 calls, of which 16 per cent were diverted from frontline officer response. 

Of the remaining calls that required officer assistance, crisis workers remained on the call to assist in preliminary de-escalation as well as provide support and referrals to community resources. 

In a media release issued at the time, OPP Commissioner Tom Carrique credited the program with helping “individuals experiencing mental health crises by offering better pathways to meet their needs and supporting the de-stigmatization of mental health.”

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for