New app intended to help officers responding to mental health calls on Vancouver Island

A new app is being rolled out to police on Vancouver Island that’s intended to help officers respond to mental health calls.

The HealthIM App will help officers assess someone in distress and determine whether they need to go to hospital.

The information recorded on the app can be shared with health-care teams and can be referenced by police if they encounter the same person again.

“Knowing specific information will change the way in which we speak to them or the resources that we need,” said Saanich police Detective-Sgt. Damian Kowalewich on Wednesday.

The Connective Support Society in Nanaimo, B.C., works with incarcerated people and says that helping someone in crisis needs a personalized approach.

“When you get to know a client and what pushes their buttons and what triggers them, then it becomes a lot easier to have those conversations when they’re in distress,” said John Horn with the Connective Support Society.

He says he’s glad the province is investing in this digital tool.

“It makes a big difference when you have some understanding of who it is you’re approaching,” said Horn.

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. says most people who are killed or seriously injured by police have a mental health issue.

“The real focus is not so much on whether our caseload is reduced, but whether the police are able to more effectively deal with people without having to use force that may lead to serious harm or death,” said IIO chief civilian director Ronald J. MacDonald.

MacDonald noted that some information recorded in the app could inform the police watchdog’s use of force investigations.

With sensitive health data being recorded on the app, B.C.’s privacy commissioner wants to be consulted on the storage of that information.

“We just need to make sure that these systems have the public’s trust and the individual’s trust, and that they’re properly secured and using the information for the intended purpose,” said B.C.’s Information and Privacy Commissioner, Michael McEvoy.

The Canadian Mental Health Association says the app could be a part of a broader change in the province’s emergency system.

“Including reducing the reliance upon police to respond to mental health emergencies in the first place,” said Jonny Morris with the CMHA.

The app is expected to take about a year and a half to roll out. The hope is that the data collected in the app will help guide future decisions.

“We need better intelligence as to what kind of investments are going to pay off for us,” said Horn.