The Mental Health Crisis Response Training (MHCRT) program is a complete training package that comprises online modules, scenario-based training, and an evaluation framework designed to train police officers to engage in de-escalation tactics and communication techniques in response to people in mental health crisis. The MHCRT offers a curriculum anchored in active, competency-based learning that allows officers to repeatedly practice safe crisis intervention strategies.
The program is based on a Social Sciences and Humanities Council of Canada (SSHRC) funded study completed by the research team and uses protocols co-designed by a team of diverse community stakeholders including people with lived experience, clinicians, Indigenous cultural safety experts, and police trainers (Lavoie et al., 2022).
The MHCRT uses a blended learning, problem-based approach. Training commences with a series of online primer modules that provide learners with an interactive foundation in de-escalation, mental illness and crisis, cultural safety, bias awareness, and relational policing approaches.
At the centre of this training is a series of 90-minute "Forum Scenarios," which offers applied learning sessions where officers have the opportunity to problem-solve, discuss in groups, and practice skills in response to high fidelity crisis situations. This applied learning model allows officer learners to practice skills guided by integrated, in-scenario, and video feedback by subject matter experts ranging from people with lived experience of mental illness and clinicians to police trainers.
Officer learners are then given an opportunity to demonstrate their skills in a scenario-based assessment built into the program ("Circuit Scenarios"). Officers participate in a series of 10-minute simulations where they are asked to respond to a diverse array of mental health crisis situations. Facilitators use a validated observer-rater evaluation framework (DEPICTTM) to assess officer skills targeted in the training program.
The VR-MHCRT migrates the comprehensive training package of the MHCRT into a virtual reality format. Leveraging VR as a training platform enhances portability, scalability, and consistency of the scenario-based curriculum across Ontario at a significant cost-savings relative to live action scenario training. Officer learners use VR headsets and controllers to enter a fully immersive VR environment that replicates the settings and characters from the original MHCRT scenarios.
VR offers life-like situations and interactive environments that are scaled 1:1 from a first-person perspective. While many VR-training programs reduce crisis encounters to a series of multiple-choice options, the VR-MHCRT’s 360o "open world" construction captures the complexity of mental health crisis situations, allowing officers to test their decision-making, risk assessment and de-escalation capabilities while taking advantage of the fully realized environment to engage tactical considerations such as positioning, containment and control, and time and distance.
The VR-MHCRT initiative is poised to revolutionize police training in Ontario by placing an immersive experiential training package that fully integrates the De-escalating Persons in Crisis Competencies Tool (DePICTTM) evaluation framework at the fingertips of police instructors.
The MHCRT is unique to other models of crisis de-escalation education and training through several prominent characteristics. The MHCRT features:
The MHCRT is guided by the DEPICTTM model, a built-in and validated assessment tool that measures de-escalation competencies specific to policing and highlights targeted skills integral to working with people in crisis. The DEPICTTM enables trainers to gain familiarity in assessing and evaluating trainees.
The MHCRT evolved through a community co-design framework. This approach is characterized by a working relationship between professionals and citizens, where each party plays a pivotal role in informing best practices to improve the quality of life for people and communities (Slay & Stephens, 2013). Collaboration cannot be understated with respect to mental health and substance use crises, given that these particular concerns exceed the capacity of any singular discipline and are community-based issues.
As such, the MHCRT was created by a trans-disciplinary team of over 40 individuals including:
Consequently, the program stresses the importance of relational policing, which emphasizes a genuine and personalized response where police officers invest time into cultivating a connection and building trust with the person in crisis while managing safety risks (Lavoie et al., 2022).
The MHCRT is a homegrown curriculum that is culturally, geographically, and jurisdictionally relevant to the needs of Ontario citizens and police officers. The program demonstrates a commitment to addressing the recommendations made in the Ontario Ombudsman’s (2016) report “A Matter of Life and Death: Investigation into the Direction Provided by the Ministry of the Solicitor General to Ontario’s Police Services for De-escalation of Conflict Situations” and responsiveness to current issues.
This domestic approach to crisis de-escalation is particularly important given the unique landscape of policing and mental health in Canada. As a curriculum designed and driven by Ontario police trainers, community experts, clinicians, people with lived experience of mental illness, researchers, and anti-racism educators, the VR-MHCRT reflects local training priorities, protocols, vocabulary, and province-wide stakeholder investment.
Wilfrid Laurier University and Toronto Metropolitan University in partnership with the Laurier’s Centre for Public Safety and Wellbeing are completing the development of a train the trainer (T3) program and sustainability planning for the roll out the MHCRT and VR-MHCRT programs to align with forthcoming legislation.
If you would like to be informed as updates, webinars, and information kits become available, please fill out the MHCRT form.