It started with a Delta Police officer trying to help a homeless couple with a young child living under the Alex Fraser Bridge, hoping to connect them to the right services for assistance.
While it was a challenge, the officer with assistance was able to provide that help, but it was also clear a specialized position is needed to help guide those lost in the system.
That’s how Police Chief Neil Dubord described the rational behind the department’s effort to create the new Police Community Advocate (PCA) program.
In an update to the Delta Police Board at its June 22 meeting, Dubord noted the department is currently in the process of refining the role to ensure that position will deliver what the department and community needs.
It’s expected a new advocate will be hired by January 2023.
Dubord noted the advocate will, among other things, help people navigate a complex system to the right resources including housing, addiction or provincial programs.
“We heard a lot about restorative justice but this is another diversion program for us to be able to ensure that people receive the right type of care, rather than being dealt with through the criminal system,” he said.
In his report to the police board, Dubord explained, “Social crime is a significant concern for police departments throughout the nation. Social crime involves ‘social disorder’ or ‘street crime’ offences such as public intoxication, minor drug dealing, low-level street robberies, and possession of break and enter tools, amongst others. Those committing social crime often display behavioural health and social problems such as mental health, addictions, poverty and homelessness. Research strongly suggests that zero-tolerance approaches do not work when a crime is committed due to behavioural health or social reasons (e.g., supporting an addiction or poverty). Instead, in such instances, the traditional police responses can be detrimental to those committing crimes to fulfill their social or behavioural health needs.”
The report notes that “service navigators” can help divert individuals committing social crimes into community care and treatment, but there are also challenges for those with behavioural health and socio-economic concerns and support systems are also often confusing and difficult to navigate.
An advocate can develop a good sense of the needs of individuals and/or their families and the particular barriers they experience in accessing services.
“Then, the Service Navigator identifies the range and combination of existing supports/resources required, shares appropriate information, provides consistent, personalized support, and assists the individual in accessing services, acting as an advocate throughout the process. Additionally, the Service Navigator can also assist in identifying gaps and the need to improve and develop resources through advocacy and work with local stakeholders,” the report adds.