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Health professionals, not police should care for intoxicated prisoners: B.C. watchdog

SURREY, B.C. — The head of British Columbia’s police watchdog says caring for intoxicated prisoners is a health-care issue and shouldn’t be a police responsibility. 

A report released by Ronald J. MacDonald, the chief civilian director of the Independent Investigations Office, says holding those who are intoxicated in jail cells is outdated and offers no guarantee of their safety and health.

The report came after a man in Williams Lake, B.C., who was thought to be suffering from alcohol or drug withdrawal, had a “life-threatening health crisis” in RCMP cells last year.

The unidentified man was arrested on Nov. 13, began vomiting about 24 hours later, then was found struggling to breathe and was rushed to hospital. 

The report says the RCMP’s call for help was actually “optimal” for the man because his symptoms were serious enough that he was hospitalized, but any later would have increased his risk of death. 

MacDonald says the officers didn’t commit any offences in the way they treated the man but he has concerns about how intoxicated prisoners are housed in the province. 

“Too many people die in police custody, often through no fault of the police. The care of intoxicated persons should not be a police responsibility,” MacDonald’s report concludes. 

“It is a health care issue. It is time for government to take steps to facilitate the changes necessary to ensure intoxicated persons who need care receive it from trained health care professionals.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 30, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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