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Halton Police – Get their Community

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About the Author

Gary J. Machan

Gary J. Machan

Gary Machan serves on the Community Advisory Research Committee for the Canadian Index of Wellbeing. Through the course of his career he has received several provincial awards including the 2nd Stage of Medicare, Ontario Tobacco Network Innovation Award for Excellence, and Food Champion Award. In addition, Mr. Machan is an associate with the Centre for Inner Freedom where his work was featured by Tom Harpur in his best selling book ‘Finding the Still Point’.

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At first glance, if you are like most folks, the connection between community wellbeing and policing might not be readily apparent. Spend a night in a police cruiser and you would quickly come to see the connection since so many emergency situations and complaints that police are called to are non criminal in nature.

  1. An isolated senior calls 911 because she is lonely and suffering a panic attack.
  2. A storeowner complains about a homeless person in front of his store who is scaring prospective customers because he is talking to a telephone pole.
  3. A youth threatens suicide because they feel hopeless and wonder if they will ever get a half decent paying job.

Spend a year in that same police cruiser and you begin to see that these situations are not isolated. They are reflective of deeper social issues reported in the Halton Community Safety and Wellbeing Plan. Things such as poverty, low levels of belonging, lack of employment opportunites, lack of affordable housing, to name just a few.

The Halton Regional Police are therefore to be commended for their leadership in getting at the roots of what ails our communities, rather than just tugging away at the weeds

Many of the recommended priorities contained in this report that range from combating social isolation for seniors to developing local strategies to dealing with the opiate crisis are sound and worthy of action, others, not so much. For instance, can someone please explain to me how reducing hospital re-admissions for mental health patients will improve community wellbeing?

Bear in mind, Ontario has never recovered from the massive and dare I say, grossly
inhumane, de-institutionalization process of long-term, severely mentally ill patients that occurred in the 1980’s. This is not to say the intent wasn’t good, but rather the savings that were supposed to be transferred to the communities never happened. It was one big cash grab by the province that our health care system is still reeling from today.

And who better to know than the police, as very often, they were the ones called in to deal with long- term mental health patients who were discharged from these institutions with one way bus tickets and no medications. And let’s not forget the hundreds of dual diagnosed patients who repeated numerous crimes such as rape while in care and were still discharged to an unsuspecting public.

And yet, the hard truth is that Ontario could increase its funding for mental health sevenfold and still not make a dent in reducing mental illness. Why? Because no amount of ‘treatment’ is going to help someone who is homeless, socially isolated and hungry. This isn’t to suggest mental health is caused by these factors, but rather, they go a long way to determining how well people cope.

The beauty of this plan is that IF proper investments are made to implement some of the key recommendations – and let me really emphasis the word IF – then it will result in not just less inappropriate demands of police services, but the same for ambulatory services, avoidable emergency room visits and hospitalizations. Everyone benefits including the taxpayer.

All of which brings us to the vital importance of leadership. As anyone who has been involved in a planning exercise will tell you, developing a plan is the easy part. Implementing it is the hard part. Implementation is where the rubber meets the road. Implementing is when resources are required. Implementing is when you need a mayor who is prepared to champion the work and put their money where his mouth is. Time will surely tell.


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