LONDON, ONT. -- Amid calls to defund the police, Chief Steve Williams is now recommending the ‘reallocation’ of budget dollars to respond to people in a mental health crisis.

In a new report to the London Police Services Board, Chief Williams recommends shifting $500,000 from the London Police Service (LPS) Operating Budget to a four-member Crisis Outreach And Support Team (COAST).

“This is an approach that is in other police services across the province, and I think it’s a good move,” says the London Police Association’s Rick Robson.

The report anticipates COAST will mitigate the need to hire more police officers in 2021, “and result in additional cost savings to the LPS as persons in mental health crisis are directed to community-centred supports.”

Williams’ recommendation responds to a recent motion by the police board to find cost savings and direct the funds towards early mental health interventions.

The London Police Service averages:

• 3,600 mental health crisis calls annually

• 752 apprehensions annually

• 8.16 hrs per call (including hospital wait times)

The COAST model will partner mental health practitioners with specially-trained police officers to attend calls for people in crisis, aiming to direct them to community-based healthcare. “Arrest, though sometimes necessary, should be a last resort.”

The annual budget for the London Police Service is about $115 million.

The $500,000 was originally budgeted for a satellite police facility to alleviate a shortage of space at LPS Headquarters. The project has been deferred because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This to me looks more like the model that ‘defund the police’ should look like,” adds Robson. “A process where we’ve examined how we do business and respond to mental health calls, and found what data says is a better approach.”

In August, more than 300 people attended a rally in Victoria Park demanding all three levels of government reallocate police funding towards community-based initiatives.

The London Police Services Board will discuss the report about launching COAST during a virtual meeting on Thursday.

Meanwhile, the London Police Services Board is conducting a survey on systemic racism in policing.

The survey can be found here and will be open until the end of September.