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things that work

Tina Baker, middle in pink, and Constable Greg Bakker, far right, respond to a call involving a man known to have a mental health history at a McDonald's in Surrey, B.C.Jimmy Jeong

When we arrive at the border crossing, the young man with bipolar disorder is sitting calmly in a chair, waiting.

He has tried to enter Canada without a passport. Had to, he explains, because people are after him. He says his only option was to ditch the passport in Washington state. He is certain someone is out to get him but, at the same time, recognizes something within him is not quite right. He feels … off.

As she speaks with the young man, Car 67's psychiatric nurse, Tina Baker, scribbles in her notepad. She runs through a host of questions: Are you taking any medication? Who do you think is after you?

Surrey RCMP officer Constable Greg Bakker, Ms. Baker's partner, stands nearby in a ready position. There is no indication the young man with bipolar disorder is prone to violence, but Constable Bakker must be on guard. Circumstances can quickly change in this line of work.

When her assessment is complete, Ms. Baker tells the young man she thinks it is in his best interest to spend the night in hospital.

"I think we need a reset," she says. "You're exhausted and I think you've hit your wall."

The young man agrees and is apprehended under the Mental Health Act. At around 11 on this Friday night in December, he is led into a police vehicle without incident.

It's just another call for Car 67.

The program is a partnership between Surrey RCMP and the Fraser Health Authority. An officer and a nurse ride in a vehicle and respond to mental-health calls together between 2 p.m. and 2 a.m.

The program, which has been in operation since 2000, drew praise during a coroner's inquest in November. The inquest focused on Colette Marie Salemink, a Coquitlam woman who died in 2010 after her son lit their home on fire. He was found not criminally responsible by reason of mental disorder. The inquest heard police were called to the home several times in the months leading up to the fire but there was a lack of communication between police and mental-health officials. The inquest jury recommended the province establish a Car 67-style program in Coquitlam or – for a trial period – institute a similar program for the entire Lower Mainland.

Tasha Schollen, a B.C. Ministry of Justice spokeswoman, wrote in an e-mail that the recommendations "will help inform the framework" for a project that will improve continuity of care for adults with mental illness. Her e-mail did not specifically say the province would institute a Car 67-style program and Ms. Schollen did not respond to a request for clarification.

B.C.'s Ministry of Health spent about $1.3-billion on mental health and substance use in 2010-2011 – an increase of 53 per cent since 2000-2001.

Ms. Baker and Constable Bakker have been working together in Car 67 for about two months.

It's time enough to settle into a routine – they have a line ready about their similar last names – but new enough that there are still surprises. On this night, Ms. Baker is shocked to learn Constable Bakker is actually a few months older than she is.

Constable Bakker is the more soft-spoken of the two. He joined the Mounties 2 1/2 years ago, after deciding life as an Alberta machinist wasn't all that fulfilling. He says he signed up for the Car 67 rotation to get a better grasp on the issues affecting the community.

Ms. Baker has been a nurse since 2004. When asked how she ended up in Car 67, she says, "I like to work in crisis mode."

The shift can be slow at times. In one instance, Constable Bakker pulls over the driver of an 18-wheeler for making a dangerous turn. The sticker on the back of the vehicle ironically asks, "How's my driving?"

At another point a call comes in about a man causing a disturbance inside a McDonald's. He has schizophrenia and is a Car 67 regular. Ms. Baker warns he can be extremely aggressive physically.

When we arrive, several officers have talked the man outside the restaurant. Curious onlookers stare as the man recites Bible verses. After about a 15-minute discussion, he agrees to let a different officer take him to a homeless shelter for the night. Any aggression he had shown earlier has now dissipated.

Back in the vehicle, Ms. Baker says there's no shortage of heartbreak in the job. She says anything involving adolescents is difficult. She recalls an 11-year-old girl with bipolar disorder who tried to jump out of a second-storey window. Other patients she's known and cared for have ended their lives, Ms. Baker says.

On this day, though, there is some good news. Ms. Baker and Constable Bakker have been checking in with a woman with a hoarding problem. Her home has been so littered with garbage that raccoons have started coming inside. The woman's hot water long ago stopped working and crews refused to enter the home to fix it. Recently – and reluctantly – the woman agreed to let a restoration crew come in to haul out the debris.

Ms. Baker says the house still has a bit of an odour, but looks much better. And she beams as she describes the woman's joy at again having running hot water.

"That totally gave me my warm and fuzzy," Ms. Baker said.