A logo at the Toronto Police Services headquarters, in Toronto, on Friday, August 9, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov

A new pilot project that will see civilian-led mobile crisis teams respond to some non-emergency calls in place of police has been unanimously approved by city council.

The idea was among a list of dozens of recommendations on how to address systematic racism in policing that was first tabled in the wake of the global movement spurred on by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis this past summer.

The report that was approved by city council today will allow the city to move forward with the creation of new community response units in three separate areas of the city as part of a pilot project – northwest Toronto, northeast Toronto and the downtown east. A fourth pilot would be Indigenous-led and serve a geographic area to be determined through further consultation with Indigenous communities.

“These pilot programs would allow for a non-police-led response for non-emergency, non-violent calls, including those involving persons in distress and for wellness checks,” Mayor John Tory told reporters on Tuesday morning ahead of the meeting. “The intention is that these mental health professionals will be the first responders. This is a step in the right direction. These pilots are being done in the right way with the best advice from our professional staff and they will help Toronto residents who are experiencing in their lives a non-violent crisis.”

 

The staff report says that each mobile crisis team will be comprised of a minimum of two crisis workers who will be hired, trained and managed by various community health service partners.

The report says that the workers “will receive extensive training that will include advanced first aid, de-escalation and situational awareness.”

At this point it is unclear which calls will be rerouted to the crisis response teams rather than police but Tory said that he will be “proposing a full-scale review of the governance and operation of 911” as part of the launch of the pilot project.

“Toronto police respond to about 30,000 calls for people in crisis every year. This change will not only see mental health professionals applying their skills and training to incidents, which will be a better answer but it will in also in turn allow police to focus on other priorities, such as violent crime,” he said.

The staff report recommends that the pilot projects be launched by the first quarter of 2022 with the goal of expanding it across the city by 2026.

A motion, however, was passed at city council today asking staff to “explore any and all options” to scale up the program before then “if proven effective.”

The pilots are expected to cost nearly $8 million to operate for each year they are in place.