Additional support and resources are being utilized by the RCMP in addressing the 30 per cent spike in domestic violence and disturbances and rise in mental health issues since the COVID-19 outbreak.

During the Cochrane RCMP Townhall last night, RCMP Inspector Dave Brunner says the spike is being viewed seriously by the detachment but also recognized it's not unique to Cochrane.

"With all of the issues society is seeing, we're seeing domestic violence and mental health issues come to the forefront, and it's taken its toll on the people in our communities."

In response, the RCMP has two special regional teams at their disposal, one of which is based out of Cochrane.

A police and crisis team (R-PACT), formed by an RCMP officer and a mental health nurse from Alberta Health Services (AHS), offers mental health assessment, support, and/or consultation in crises. It's able to arrange urgent psychiatry assessments and referrals as needed.

Its goal is to assist individuals who are in crisis with mental illness and addiction issues with the hopes of diverting them from the justice system and hospital emergency departments.

He says having a mental health nurse available to assist people is a positive step forward. He says the training of RCMP officers is centred upon crime and diffusing situations.

"We don't take a lot of training and have an area of expertise on mental health. To have a fully trained mental health nurse available to intervene and help us is huge because they have that clinical background and the ability to talk to people and make the assessment and say yes, that person is in a bad place, or that person is not."

While Cochrane has to share the team with the rest of the southern Alberta district, Brunner sees it as a win to have them based out of our community.

"Possession is kind of nine-tenths of the law, that old saying, and just having them in Cochrane is just a bonus for us, because if they're here, we're going to utilize them."

He says they have been called upon here and believes the unit will continue to grow.

"When we get to the building we're going to have a bit more space and they're already talking a possible expansion of that unit so that will be even better for us."

They also have a risk assessment team available that's part of their behavior science group.

S.Sgt. Chad Fournier says they are called in for dangerous offenders involved with domestic violence.

"If we're very concerned about the safety of a family, we will have the centre do their assessments and they provide a document that we can disclose to the court. All the information in that document can be used for court purposes."

With health restrictions easing, Brunner says they are looking forward to a return to more engagement with the community through such activities as "Coffee with Cops" with adults, and "Caught being Good" rewards to engage with youth.

"When I said that the community of Cochrane is one of the strongest and best communities I've ever lived in, I meant it," he says.

During the peak of the pandemic, that engagement continued, only in a different form. For one, they participated in the community food collection parades with other emergency responders. He says they first participated with one police vehicle and quickly doubled that to two.

"I know from speaking with other members in the district, other communities weren't doing this. This was a Cochrane thing that blew senior management away with the response we got. So, we know there are good people, and we know that we can reach out there and have that interaction, and that's what we hope to do."

Right now, the local RCMP detachment houses about 90 people in their worn-out facility on 1 St. E. That will all change when they do move to the Cochrane Protective Services Building now under construction.

The building is larger than needed for current detachment and town needs, but other policing units are eye-balling the building as a possible future location.

Brunner spoke of other wins the detachment has seen, including the establishment of a satellite detachment in the Stoney Nakoda Nation. He admits there have been challenges in the early going but residents have been making them aware of additional criminal activities than had been previously reported.