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TEMPO: Police Interactions – A report towards improving interactions between police and people living with mental health problems


Starting in 2007, the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), through its Mental Health and the Law Advisory Committee (MHLAC), undertook a series of projects related to police interactions with people with mental illnesses (PMI). There has been a significant increase in the number of such interactions over recent years and, concomitantly, increased concerns about some of the outcomes. While most interactions between police and PMI are resolved successfully, a few have resulted in negative outcomes, including the death of the person with the mental illness. The overall goal of the MHCC projects was to identify ways to increase the likelihood of these interactions having positive outcomes–that is, better outcomes for all involved. These projects included:

  • A review of police academy/basic training education in regard to mental illness;
  • A review of in-service level education;
  • An extensive study of the experience of people with mental illnesses with police, including their recommendations for
  • changes in education and practice; and
  • Guidelines for police services, in regard to their interactions with the mental health system

It has now been over seven years since the initial MHCC work in this area. Where are we now? How have things progressed? The present report is focused only on police education and training, rather than on the broader systems and policies that affect interactions between police and people with mental illnesses; it addresses education and training in the broadest sense. As the preface to the 2010 report, Police Interactions with Persons with a Mental Illness: Police Learning in the Environment of Contemporary Policing, stated: no matter how well designed and complete a curriculum is, it will only result in improved outcomes if the learning engages the right people and in the right context. Thus, in this paper, attention is also paid to contextual factors—not only what should we teach, but also to whom should we teach and in conjunction with what other organizational structures and social systems (p. 5). The present report places an emphasis on HOW we should teach as well as what we should teach, given the many developments in the field of adult education and curriculum design. That is, how can we better prepare police personnel for interactions with PMI?

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