SAULT STE. MARIE -- The Sault Ste. Marie Police Service says the success of its mental health crisis unit could see it expand in the near future.

The Mobile Crisis Response Team, a collaboration between the Sault Area Hospital and city police, sees officers and a mental-health worker form a unit to de-escalate and better assess individuals during mental-health calls.

"It's still very early on into the program, but we're already seeing two negative variables decreasing," said Chief Hugh Stevenson. "As we go through now and as we increase the program, we feel that those two issues, being the number of times we had to use force and the number of complaints against the police, will reduce further."

Stevenson said the unit allows officers to do their jobs more efficiently and makes those in crisis situations feel more comfortable.

"We know people can feel threatened by officers, so having these workers there to help and let the person know we care about their well-being will in turn help build trust with the community," he said.

'We're trying to help them'

Prior to the program, officers often had to wait in hospital while people they apprehended were assessed. But an officer in the unit says the special unit ensures they can be treated on site, making his job more efficient.

"When people are in crisis, we're trying to help them, we're not trying to arrest them, or apprehend them, we just want to get them the help that is out there and that they need," said Const. Beau Neveau. "We're also constantly learning what to look out for, just by being alongside crisis workers, which is a big plus."

Expansion of the program could see more units added, along with the addition of virtual checkups and followups from registered nurses or social workers.

"Which will further reduce the amount of clients having being brought into the emergency department, which again, will free up the time for our police services," said Eva Torresan, patient care manager at the Sault Area Hospital.

Torresan said early results show the program is already on the right track.

Meanwhile, the City of Elliot Lake has also begun its own mobile crisis response team.