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CJCCJ/Volume 63.2 (2021)

Police Response to Mental Health in Canada

Uzma Williams, Daniel J. Jones, and John R. Reddon (Eds.)
Canadian Scholars Press. 2019. 357 p.

The book Police Response to Mental Health provides a theoretical and practical side to the many challenges that mental health issues pose to society. The many challenges police face are the increased incidents involving mental health that intersect with police daily. As such, there is no greater time and need for police to understand the many mental health disorders they are exposed to daily and how to respond to mental health crises effectively and safely in a productive, respectful, and dignified way. This book skillfully directs the reader toward an understanding of the response to mental health incidents.

From an operational police officer perspective, I find the book’s structure conducive in terms of how police officers’ input and process information before action or deployment. Starting each chapter with identified learning objectives sets the tone for the reader and clarifies what the content is trying to accomplish. This cuts-to-the chase approach allows the police reader to focus on what they truly need to focus on. The utilization of case studies within each chapter allows readers to see the practical and “life” side of how the book’s content plays into real-world policing dynamics. The chapter conclusions all summarize their content well and provide the reader with reflection questions that drive home what they have read and how it relates to the policing world.

A crucial first step to a successful police response to mental health is identifying and understanding the disorders that officers will likely and, in some cases, frequently encounter. This includes terminology relating to mental health. Knowing the terms speaks to professionalism for an officer and transcends into respect and trust for those interacting with police.  Part 1 of the book accomplishes this in a way that is understandable to the police reader. It provides the foundation for responses, interactions, and successful dealings for police with people who have mental health issues.

Officers are placed into many situations, some of which are more dynamic than others. Therefore, knowing how disorders affect an individual’s behaviours is imperative to a successful interaction and outcome for both the person in crisis and the police. I find the book provides a common-sense approach that will be useful to and practical for police.

Part 2 of the book speaks to responding to mental health and breaks down several topics that include the importance of community trust within the policing world. Equally important, the chapter covers communication and compassion for officers and how the use of force, in particular excessive force, can immediately erode public confidence and retroactively destroy years of good work by police agencies. I found this section useful; since communication evolves with officer experience, this larger picture breakdown would be helpful to junior officers or those wanting to get into law enforcement.

Part 2 also examines the interpersonal traits and responses, including desired profiles of an effective police officer and provides officers with considerations relating to initial assessments and signs of mental health concerns. I found the highlighted traits reinforce what makes a good police officer and ultimately a successful police service and provide officers with the tools to effectively identify and respond to cues of someone exhibiting/experiencing mental health issues. Given the intensified scrutiny on policing in North America, one cannot overstate the need for well-trained, compassionate, and professional police services.

Chapter 11 covers the response to a crisis involving suicide and provides police strategies on suicide prevention and intervention. I appreciated how this chapter encompassed suicide as a whole and addressed the factors that contribute to suicide while providing officers with the ability to recognize the warning signs for suicide and disposition options. The chapter also spoke to the dangerous reality of officers having to respond and deal with “suicide by cop” incidents in its case study.

Equally important, the book addressed the mental health of police and first responders. Specifically, recognizing that the many mental health issues that affect officers and their mental health can adversely impact their families and their work. I liked that the chapter was specific on how positive relationships increase mental health resilience and the importance of healthy family and social supports. Too often, we get caught up in dealing with everyone else’s mental health issues, and we forget to manage our own. As more and more officers and first responders deal with mental health issues, I believe that resiliency will be the key to one’s success in managing the many mental health stressors they encounter.

The book’s final section relates to select topics that include understanding the history of Indigenous persons’ policing. This is a timely topic given recent calls to action by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. This was another excellent chapter that spoke to the origins of crime and addiction for indigenous people and the relationship between trauma, mental health, and crime. It did a good job explaining how all this ties into indigenous people being overrepresented in the criminal justice and child welfare systems and how police have contributed to the trauma. This is truly a must-read for any officer and one of many steps needed to improve relationships with Indigenous Peoples.

As a police officer of 24 years, I found Police Response to Mental Health in Canada easy to read and easy to remain engaged with. Whether you are an officer with a lot of experience or just starting a career in policing, this book provides the necessary framework and the many considerations one must take when dealing with mental health in policing.  I feel that the book provides essential information and terminology for many relevant mental health disorders, including signs, symptoms and traits that provide police officers needed tools to deal with mental health safely, professionally, and effectively. In my opinion, every officer starting in their chosen law enforcement career would benefit from reading this book as part of their basic recruit training. As such, I highly recommend the book to law enforcement personnel.


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