Co-response team trial shows ‘major benefits’

Police are reporting "major benefits" from a joint trial in Dunedin where a police officer, a paramedic and a mental health nurse are dispatched together to attend mental health callouts.

The co-response team was established on November 2 last year, following a successful trial of the model in Wellington that concluded in March last year.

The team aims to reduce the amount of time and resources front-line emergency services spend on mental health-related callouts.

It particularly aims to reduce 9

the number of people being detained by police or being transported to the emergency department by providing assessments at the point of contact.

It is also hoped that effective early intervention can result in more effective long-term outcomes for those experiencing mental health crises.

Correspondence released by the Southern District Health Board (SDHB) under the Official Information Act shows the team is based on the fourth floor of the Dunedin Central Police Station and operates out of an unmarked police car, which can be dispatched either by St John or police.

The co-response team works Tuesday to Friday from 11am until 9pm, and is made up of a police officer, a St John paramedic and a mental health professional from the SDHB.

The safe at the front of the police car is repurposed to carry medications the paramedic needs, instead of a gun.

A Taser carried by the police officer is the most powerful tactical option available to the co-response team.

Otago coastal area prevention manager Inspector Craig Brown said the trial reached the six-month mark on April 30.

Anecdotally, the trial had been received positively by frontline police, who were "really pleased" with the initiative because when the team was working it reduced mental health-related calls about 30% .

This "significant reduction" freed up front-line officers for other jobs.

There were also "major benefits" from the people-centric approach, which often involved dealing with clients in their homes, away from hospital or formal settings, Insp Brown said.

There had been an upward trend in mental health-related callouts over several years before Covid-19.

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