COCHRANE— Cochrane RCMP has seen an increase in mental health-related calls during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cochrane RCMP Inspector Dave Brunner was on hand at Monday's (July 12) Cochrane Council meeting to provide insights into trends the police have seen in town.
Brunner reported the detachment saw 6,885 files in 2020, marking a decrease of 14.6 compared to 2019. He added these trends are in line with the province and are largely the result of COVID-19 impacting the behaviour of residents in town.
"As expected in 2020 service related to wellbeing checks and mental health activities increased," Brunner said. "Mental health and domestic violence continue to be front runners of community issues, not just in this community but throughout Alberta and more or less Canada."
The RCMP saw mental health calls increase 23.4 per cent from 161 in 2019 to 210 in 2020. Brunner noted domestic violence calls maintained or dropped in comparison to 2019.
Brunner said during the pandemic youth liaison workers dealt with many young people experiencing languishing mental health— Including interventions with 10-year-olds experiencing suicidal thoughts.
"These are tragic things," Brunner said.
Mental health is a new area of increasing coverage and online training has been made available for officers.
"The problems were there before and the pandemic brought them to the forefront," Brunner said. "These are deep-rooted issues that the stress of the pandemic brought to the forefront."
Mental health support is becoming a more pressing issue because it has been integrated with addictions and the stresses of the pandemic. Cochrane RCMP are looking at creating a dedicated mental health district team specializing in mediations and high-risk calls. Brunner said they are currently working with the district management team to see it get up and running.
"If our calls for mental health act checks continue that way, we certainly in the future will need their expertise," Brunner said.
Well-being and mental health checks have been a challenging and new experiences for many team members, he said, explaining police do not see these types of requests on a regular basis. Brunner said they could see first-hand how stresses like school being cancelled, isolation and financial hardship have impacted the community's youth.
These experiences have sparked a drive in Cochrane RCMP to engage with the youth in town.
Starting next week, the RCMP will be launching a positive ticket campaign to promote positive youth actions in Cochrane. Local businesses have provided treats and youth who receive a ticket will be entered into a draw for fun prizes. As part of the program RCMP members will be in the community and when they spot youth doing positive things, they will award them with a ticket.
The positive ticket program will kick off at the Zero Gravity Skate Park next week. RCMP are also partnering with the Boys and Girls Club of Cochrane and Area and Stoney Nakoda First Nation to integrate additional activities.
Brunner said the goal is to engage with youth at risk who are struggling with mental health.
"The pandemic has provided us with opportunities that we haven't seen in Alberta for a long time. We're becoming more innovative with how we do our work," Brunner said.
Traffic offences remained the highest reported issue in town, he said, even though the year saw numbers decline. During the pandemic, RCMP somewhat halted proactive enforcement to limit the spread of the virus by restricting the face-to-face contact officers had with residents.
"We were only making roadside stops on high priority type calls and situations," Brunner said. "This affected the traffic stats for the last year."
As the province has reopened the RCMP have returned to more proactive enforcement on the roads to keep people safe and traffic moving.
Brunner added staffing levels at the detachment are starting to normalize and will see the addition of five new members.
"Cochrane is by far one of the most dynamic detachments in Alberta, bar-none," Brunner said. "It's been under-resourced for the area that we serve both in the Indigenous community we serve, Rocky View County and the Town of Cochrane."
Other steps to engage with the community include expanding the ability to report crime online and online criminal record checks.
The RCMP will also be launching a youth advisory committee in the fall.
"We continue to try and build on our partnerships with all our community partners and thinking outside the box on every occasion that we can to try and solve some of the more unique issues that we see in the community," Brunner said.
Councillor Morgan Nagel praised the RCMP for securing five additional officers for the community.
He said it has been frustrating to see the "defund the police" campaign over the past year given the expansive role they play in supporting the community.
"The services you provide are deeply appreciated and respected," Nagel said.