Addressing social disorder in Nanaimo may require a case-by-case approach.
Nanaimo city council unanimously agreed at a meeting Monday to look into ‘situation tables,’ a provincial tool to help communities identify and reduce risks for vulnerable people.
Sheila Malcolmson, Nanaimo MLA, presented the idea to council, saying it could have profound effects both for those who are committing crimes and other citizens who are suffering through the impacts of social disorder and crime in the city.
She said 10 other B.C. communities have established the provincially funded situation tables, which bring together police, health authorities, non-profit service providers and others. Individuals known to police are discussed but not identified until partners have determined risks and needs and planned intervention.
“It creates a table for problem-solving, one case at a time, one person at a time,” Malcolmson said.
She said situation tables can “break silos” between service providers and said her understanding is that the tool works best when championed by RCMP leadership. She said at B.C.’s 10 situation tables in 2019, 54 per cent of police files were transferred to other agencies.
According to a Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General document, situation tables can serve, for example, people with substance use problems, people with negative peer influences, suspected victims and runaways.
“What was found to drive the behaviours that got folks referred to the situation tables were mental health, drug use, unmet basic needs, housing. Poverty would be an underlying factor for sure,” Malcolmson said. “Files were closed when people that were referred to the situation tables got the services that they had, up to that point, not been able to access. That lowered their risk to themselves and also the risk to their neighbours and community.”
Nanaimo RCMP Insp. Lisa Fletcher, acting superintendent, told councillors she’s supportive of the idea of situation tables, which she said aligns with other police initiatives. She said detachments that have experience with situation tables say that when a person known to police gets referred to appropriate resources, instances of recidivism are reduced.
“So from the police perspective, why wouldn’t we? We’re going to actually dramatically reduce those calls because we’re dealing with it more effectively,” Fletcher said. “We get the call frequently as a police agency but we are often not the right one, it’s just we work 24-7 and we have a really convenient phone number.”
Coun. Sheryl Armstrong, a retired RCMP sergeant, said a similar program was in place in Nanaimo in the past, but wasn’t successful because she said there weren’t sufficient treatment options or mental health supports.
However, she and other members of council voted unanimously in favour of Coun. Erin Hemmens’s motion for the city to send a letter of general support to the ministry and organize a meeting with ministry staff and community agencies.
Coun. Zeni Maartman said she’s excited and hopeful that situation tables could be effective and Coun. Don Bonner said it appeared the province recognizes the problems municipalities are facing and is making tools available.
Malcolmson said situation tables could not only take pressure off police but also identify gaps in social services.
“What we’re doing right now isn’t working. It’s burning people out, very brave people, especially in the [non-governmental organization] community that have been holding the ball for a long time…” she said. “Every community is in competition for the same kind of resources that we need here, so I’m encouraged by the ability to try something different.”