HALIFAX -- The lawyer representing a Halifax police officer accused of serial shoplifting has applied to have her case dealt with by the province's mental health court.

Police say the 37 charges against Const. Jennifer McPhee are connected to at least 16 alleged thefts last year from six Atlantic Superstores in the Halifax area.

McPhee, who has over 17 years of service with Halifax Regional Police, remains suspended with pay.

Lawyer James Giacomantonio said his client suffers from mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder, related to her work as a veteran officer.

"My client is a long-standing member of Halifax Regional Police and she has experienced some on-the-job trauma," Giacomantonio said in an interview. "Our position in applying to the court is that her alleged criminality is integrally tied to her mental health."

The Nova Scotia mental health court is not a trial court. It is described as a problem-solving court that works with the Nova Scotia Health Authority and other organizations to offer adult participants treatment for mental illnesses or substance abuse issues.

The court, which was recently renamed Dartmouth Wellness Court, monitors participants' progress and continually assesses their potential risk to public safety.

"In order to go through it, you have to accept responsibility for your criminal actions," Giacomantonio said.

"(The court) will assess whether or not she is suitable."

A screening assessment hearing has been scheduled for April 2.

McPhee's application to enter the program will be decided by the court team. But final approval rests with the province's Public Prosecution Service.

McPhee originally faced seven charges related to an alleged theft on Sept. 13, 2019, but police added 30 additional charges in relation to 15 incidents at five Atlantic Superstores during the period between Aug. 3 and Sept. 11, 2019.

The charges against McPhee in the Sept. 13 incident include careless use of a firearm, carrying a concealed weapon, theft under $5,000 and using disguise with intent to commit an indictable offence, among other alleged offences.

Police Chief Dan Kinsella has confirmed the firearm involved in the Sept. 13 incident was a service-issued weapon, which court documents identify as a Sig Sauer 9-mm pistol.

Nova Scotia's independent police watchdog agency, the Serious Incident Response Team, investigated both cases.

Court records confirm McPhee pleaded guilty to a breathalyzer offence and received a curative discharge in 2013, meaning she has no criminal record.

Since its creation 10 years ago, the Dartmouth court has expanded to include an opioid court program, an alcohol court program and a judicial monitoring program, which primarily serves marginalized and vulnerable people who live with undiagnosed trauma.

Mental health courts first appeared in Canada in the late 1990s to deal with people with mental disorders who come into conflict with the law as a result of their mental challenges.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 12, 2020.