The Co-Response Team (CRT) initiative devised and piloted in Wellington over 2020 and 2021, has been a transformational change for frontline police who were struggling with the rise in mental health-related calls for service.
The model, the first of its kind in New Zealand, combines the skills of a paramedic, a police officer and a mental health specialist who not only respond to callouts but share information and co-ordinate services across the three agencies. This is done with a view to provide a good outcome for the person in distress and reducing the risk of police, ambulance and emergency departments of being overwhelmed.
A co-response team will aim to involve the person and their whānau in decision-making wherever possible. Often, the emergency can be resolved on site and sometimes the person requires the services of another provider, and the team can transport to and or engage that person with those other services.
The trial delivered a marked improvement in outcomes and due to the success of the pilot, the Wellington co-response team model was extended.
However, the CRT approach is not the only multi-agency approach to mental health that Police has adopted.
Standing, from left: Senior Sergeant Julie Fifield, Canterbury District Victim/Mental Health Manager; Tony Lockington, Service Manager Adult Mental Health Services/Police Liaison for Mental Health; Inspector Craig McKay, Operations and Support Manager. Seated, front: Mel Counsell, Registered Nurse / Custody DAO.
In an effort to help manage the mental health demands and issues in their region, Canterbury District Police with the support of Canterbury District Health Board have embedded mental health professionals within their station.
These dedicated staff have been providing advice and co-ordination assistance to frontline officers and helping people in distress for many years. More recently, they have been assisting our Emergency Communication Centres through triaging and monitoring of relevant events.
Following Canterbury and Wellington’s leads, Southern, Central, Waikato, and Eastern Police Districts have set up either a Co-Response Team or similar multi-agency model to help their emergency services respond better to mental health incidents. All these models help their services respond better to mental health events and provide better outcomes for all involved.
The programme aimed at supporting Tairāwhiti whānau with drug and alcohol concerns within Te Whare Herehere (police custody) is showing real promise for those taking part.
Te Awa Outreach was launched 18 months ago to deliver interventions to directly improve the outcomes for individuals impacted by addiction. The programme is being funded through a grant from the Proceeds of Crime Fund and is a partnership between Tairāwhiti Police, Hauroa Tairāwhiti and Te Kupenga Net Trust Te Waharoa.
The Hawke’s Bay Police Liaison Service at the Hastings Police Station and Te Awa Outreach at the Gisborne Police Station both operate out of the custody units, alongside Police.
They are funded from a successful joint bid through the Proceeds of Crime Fund and, while they operate differently, they have a shared goal of providing support to those in need of mental health and addiction support.
Tairawhiti Eastern District Team, from left: Senior Sergeant Trent Higgs, Ria Akuhata, Lana Royston (student nurse) and Steve Whitaker from Hauora Tairawhiti.
LEFT: The Hastings-based team, from left: Te Whatu Ora Clinical Manager for the Mental Health Crisis team, home-based treatment and the Police Liaison Service, Alexandra Palacio, Police Liaison Peer Support worker Ruth Anderson, and Mental Health Police Liaison Nurse Justine Pack-England. RIGHT: Hawke's Bay Custody Senior Sergeant Ross Smith who works with the Hastings District team.
Waikato District has recently begun their new pilot, which is a joint agency collaboration between Waikato District Health Board (DHB) Mental Health Services and Police.
The trial will run for six months and involve three Police staff members – two based in a patrol car with a crisis worker and one based in an office with an 0800 Crisis Line worker. The trial will also incorporate a Kaitakawaenga – DHB family liaison officer trained in mental health support.
The trial hopes to reduce demand for mental health attendance by police staff. They will initially cover the geographical area of Hamilton City, Huntly, Te Awamutu, Cambridge and Morrinsville.
Health partnerships manager and lead of the Wellington CRT, Acting Inspector Matt Morris, says: “In the past, the standard formula was that Police would attend a mental health call-out where the person in crisis would often be returned to a police station or a hospital emergency department waiting for Crisis Response Service (CRS) from the local DHB to arrive and assess them.
"It was a drain on police resources, often unnecessary and had poor outcomes for distressed people.”
Sometimes the job took so long, it would take over the entire shift for that unit.
CRT data from the evaluation of the Wellington trial showed that a significant majority of Police 111 mental health demand was from people who have been, or are also being, managed by Health and they have rich information on how to best respond and care for those people.
The formula has proved a resounding success, including endorsement from thankful frontline police who no longer spend hours on shift dealing with a person in crisis. This means better outcomes for all.
“Ultimately the balancing act is to provide the best service for people experiencing mental distress while at the same time lowering demand on Police," says Matt. "What we really hope to achieve is better more co-ordinated care and if we can get this right, it is a win for every party involved.”
There are plans for more CRTs to be set up in other police districts soon.