Mental health crisis is taking a toll, Kingston Police Services Board hears

Kingston Police Headquarters on January 18, 2024. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

The Kingston Police Services Board (PSB) heard some hard facts at its first meeting of the new year.

While the Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, meeting provided a deal of insight into the accomplishments of Kingston Police (KP) in 2023, it also addressed some major challenges facing the force as a new Chief of Police settles into his recently appointed role.

Board Chair Jarrod Stearns began by congratulating formerly acting Chief Scott Fraser’s appointment to Chief of Police, calling it “well deserved.”

After some perfunctory business, Chief Fraser was asked to comment on the year-end reports.

First came the good news.

Stearns requested the details of the “Substantiated Service complaint, which was resolved,” from 2023. Fraser replied, “We received a conduct complaint that came in 2022, and it carried over into 2023. It came through the OIPRD [Office of the Independent Police Review Director] and as a result, that conduct complaint was resolved informally. And during the investigation, it was determined as well that there was a service complaint. So we undertook an investigation into the service, concerning how we handled the call itself.”

“As a result, we found the response could be improved,” Fraser continued, noting that they had been able to resolve this complaint informally with the complainant as well.

“In the end, everyone was satisfied with the results.”

Subsequently, the Director of the OIPRD reached out to KP staff to compliment them on how it was handled and resolved, something the Chief said he has never seen in all his years.

“You know, I think that is a really a lot of credit to our team here. We do take complaints seriously and they are investigated. There is a process, and I know that a lot of them become unsubstantiated, but everyone has the right to have their voice heard… [Complaints] will be thoroughly investigated, and when we realize we’ve done something wrong, we will address it.”

No further details on the nature of the conduct complaint or service complaint in question were disclosed.

Christian Leuprecht, provincial appointee to the Board, thanked Fraser for the good statistical reporting and asked him if there were any parts he wished to highlight from his reports.

“Certainly,” the Chief replied. Then things took a darker turn.

Kingston Police Chief Scott Fraser paints a dire picture of a citizenry in a mental health crisis. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

Fraser drew attention to the 14 per cent increase in calls for service from 2022 to 2024. He attributed much of the increase to “calls for service in the mental health area… They were up about 17 percent… Those are all calls that cost us a lot of time.”

Ideally, Fraser said, that is an area he would like to improve: “A lot of our time — almost all of our calls — have some mental health component, and it’s not getting any better.”

He described “working well” with Kingston General Hospital to decrease police wait times, but even with that, he said, “there’s still the odd time where we might have six officers stuck at the hospital for periods in excess of three, four, or five hours.”

While freshly in his previous role as acting chief of police in March 2023, Fraser told City Council about the amount of time officers can spend waiting in hospital when tending to mental health related incidents; Under the Mental Health Act, when police respond to a person in distress due to mental health issues, two officers are required to accompany that person to the hospital, staying with them until they are in the custody of medical professionals. This means, Fraser told Council last year, at any given time, there will be two to eight Kingston Police officers sitting in the Kingston General Hospital emergency department waiting room, sometimes for up to six hours, depending on wait times.

As Thursday’s meeting continued, Fraser pointed out that mental health calls can often end up being repeat calls where police apprehend a subject, take them to the hospital, and “before our officers leave, the person’s already released and then they’re threatening people with a knife in the emergency room.” Thus they need to repeat the process.

“So the system is very broken, and it’s causing us a lot of return calls… There are no [mental health] resources, and the available resources are hard to get to. [People in crisis] end up becoming the police’s problem because we’re the only people working 24/7,” the Chief stated.

“At the end of the day, [we have] substance abuse, opioid crisis, overdoses, people who are suffering from abuse and addiction. We are constantly receiving calls to return to the same people.”

Next, Fraser explained that bail violations are also a huge cost to the system, noting, “We arrest the person for committing the offence and they’re released, and then we go and arrest them again the next day, and they’re released… and the next day, and the next.”

Fraser’s frustration was evident as he said, “We know the jail’s not the answer, but something has to be the answer. At this point… the answer is ‘Hey, the police will just continually go in.’”

“Residents are frustrated. I’ve been told, ‘It’s like a lawless society we live in now’ — and it’s not just Kingston. It’s all across Ontario and Canada,” said the Chief, adding that, without a better solution, “calls for service will continue to increase.”

Fraser praised the City of Kingston for doing all it can to provide alternative housing for the unhoused. He noted that the bylaw department has “really stepped up” to help, which has aided in freeing up some police time. He stated that Kingston should be “continuing to encourage outside agencies to increase their capacity with longer hours and better resources” — something he’d mentioned to Council at the aforementioned March 2023 meeting.

In summary, Fraser said to the Police Services Board, “we’d love to see [call for service] numbers going down. We know that violent crime in Kingston’s going up, and we’re trying to combat it in any way we can.”

“Kingston is getting more violent,” the Chief reiterated while discussing his report on the use of force by police officers. “

We’re seeing a lot of people coming into our community affiliated with gangs, and more firearms and more drug-related offences. Certainly the use of force reporting is consistent with our efforts to combat organized crime.”

On a more positive note, Chief Fraser also had an update on the strategic plan, which he called a road map for moving forward. Kingstonist will provide coverage of that section of the Thursday, Jan. 18, 2024, meeting of the Kingston Police Services Board in a near future.

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