Saanich police unveil new response protocol for calls reporting missing youth

A tragic death last year has prompted Saanich police to change how they respond to calls from a psychiatric facility that treats distraught teenagers.An internal review following the death of a 16-year-old patient at Ledger House last December found that the department could improve on its former policy.The review, overseen by Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner, found that Saanich police responded appropriately to the report of the missing youth.”Given the information we received at the time through our call centre and the best practices and policies in place at the time, our response was within those parameters,” Sgt. Dean Jantzen said. “There was no direct causal link or nexus to anything done by one of our employees or officers that could be any way construed as contributing to the death of this youth.”At 5:36 p.m., Dec. 19, 2010, police received a call to their non-emergency line from a staff member at Ledger House about the missing teen. The call was “captured, categorized and triaged,” but police were busy dealing with an attempted murder and didn’t send an officer to the Queen Alexandra Centre for Children’s Health until after the teen was found dead on a nearby beach.That call would now go straight to on-duty staff sergeants who will determine whether the call should receive higher priority. “Dispatching of missing youth calls will now take place immediately … That’s not specific to Ledger House – that’s any missing youth in our community,” Jantzen said, adding that doesn’t necessarily mean an officer will respond right away.The change means the responsibility of setting response priorities will land with officers, rather than civilian call-centre employees.Police receive about 20 missing youth calls from Ledger House each year. In an effort to ensure both sides clearly understand each other, the two parties created a co-ordinated assessment protocol to help determine the urgency of the response.”We were up front (with the caller) about the fact that our response was going to be delayed. Given the fact that there was no immediacy or real sense of urgency conveyed to us, we responded as we felt was appropriate,” Jantzen said. “What they might consider to be something routine, we may view as something that requires a more immediate response, or the inverse. There’s constant assessment going on once information has been received.”Ledger House is run by the Vancouver Island Health Authority, which is still in the midst of its own internal review. However, the centre has already changed its policy, said VIHA spokesperson Shannon Marshall.”What they’ve done is rewritten the protocol so it’s a more visual representation of the steps and guidelines on the initiation of the procedure of what happens when someone is found missing,” she said.When a youth is reported missing from Ledger House, staff will call the police emergency line and fax an unauthorized absence form detailing the individual’s risk to police.Saanich’s new response to missing youth – between the ages of 12 and 18 – is above the provincial standard, which categorizes those calls as routine rather than requiring immediate attention.B.C. Coroners Service and the Office of the Representative for Children and Youth in B.C. are investigating the death and could also make recommendations.The teen’s death was the first inpatient client death in Ledger House’s 23 years of operation.kslavin@saanichnews.com