Prime Time Crime

(Prime Time Crime exclusive Feb.  2, 2008)

Policing and the mentally ill

By Bob Cooper



John L. Daly’s story on Policing and the Mentally Ill on Global News tonight dealt with a newly-released VPD Report which documents a social engineering experiment gone horribly wrong.  As a young policeman working in the Downtown Eastside I was there for the start of the ‘downsizing’ of Riverview Mental Hospital.  We were told at the time that psychiatric patients would do much better being treated in ‘the community’.

Of all of the lies that have come out of Victoria over the years this one would have to rank in the Top 10.

We all had serious misgivings but the professionals assured us that this was a sound idea based on solid research.  I remember the older guys saying they’d heard the same thing about the Granville Mall.  The professionals told us there would be a full support system in place for these people and there would be no negative impact on communities.  When they said this new enlightened approach was more humane as well as cost-effective we knew we were being conned.  Nonsense, they said.  These people can be maintained on anti-psychotic drugs and lead very normal lives as long as they took their medication.

Problem was, as anyone who has dealt with these poor people knows, they take their medication and feel normal.  Then they don’t like some of the side effects and think that because they feel normal they no longer need the medication and stop taking it.

It didn’t take long for our fears to be realized.  It seemed like half the calls we dealt with every shift involved mental cases.  I recall answering a radio call to a ‘community support facility’ where a very large outpatient named Murray was causing a disturbance and the staff wanted him removed.  I remember thinking that if we remove him who’s going to care for him.  The counselor told my partner and me that Murray was fine as long as he took his medication.  I asked the counselor what would happen when he stopped and was told “he’ll flip out”.  About 2 seconds later Murray flipped out.  In addition to Murray’s size, mental cases have super-human strength and are impervious to pain.  It took literally everything we had to get the cuffs on and keep him from destroying the facility and the people in it.  As we rolled around on the ground the counselor said we didn’t have to be so rough to which I replied that we’d be glad to take the cuffs off and let him go a couple of rounds with Murray if he wanted.

It was then I realized that the ‘community support system’ was us.  Plain and simple.  Dump these people in the Downtown Eastside and let the cops deal with them.  The only thing this ‘enlightened’ approach accomplished was to supply the predatory savages at Main & Hastings with a whole new flock of victims, herded down there for them like sheep.  At Riverview they were at least warm, safe, and well-fed.  Now many are alcoholic, drug addicted, HIV infected, malnourished, and sleeping on loading docks, under bridges, and in doorways.  They wander the streets in rags with thousand yard stares and a sign on their back that says ‘Rob Me’.  Not to mention a few that colleagues of mine have had to shoot.  The government had a duty to care for these people.  When you stop and think about it, it makes the Frank Paul case seem like child’s play.

By the way, an arrest under the Mental Health Act involves taking your prisoner to the Emergency Ward, guarding him for a minimum of 6 hours until a doctor decides to see him.  Chances of re-institutionalization?  About .01%.  No matter what he’s done.  Usually it’s just more drugs and back on the street where you found them.  Clear message to the police:  Don’t bother, just leave them where they are.  Let natural selection take its course.  More cost-effective.

The Downtown Eastside is now one of the worst cesspools in the world and other neighborhoods are being negatively affected as well.  I’d love to see them ask the Chinatown Merchants Association what they think of their ‘humane, cost-effective’ scheme.  I’d pay money to see that.  The professionals and politicians who designed this ill-advised venture should be held accountable but they won’t be.  In a perfect world they’d be sentenced to live down there in the same hell they created for these people.

Kudos to D/Cst. Fiona Wilson-Bates and the journalists covering this story.  It’s been done before and ignored but I think this time it might be different.

Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2008