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Monday, November 03, 2008

7th Annual "Psychiatrists in Blue" Conference

November 3, 2008

To zap or not to zap?

It's one of the questions being posed as police and mental health experts from across the country meet over the next two days at a mental-health conference in Edmonton.

The issue of when to use stun guns resurfaced following the recent death of a 38-year-old city man who was zapped twice by police.

While an independent body is still investigating that case, in other similar circumstances a rare physical and mental state called excited delirium, which causes the sufferer to be agitated and possess super human strength, has been to blame for deaths.


"What the public hears about are the bad news stories," said Dr. Dorothy Cotton, an Ontario psychologist and one of the organizers of the conference.

"I don't want to play down the level of tragedy here ... (but) police are very well trained ... I think it'd be safe to say in situations involving Tasers and excited delirium, it's just not known. We're just not there yet."

Trevor Grimolfson, the 38-year-old owner of Big Daddy's tattoo shop, died last Wednesday after police jolted him in an attempt to end a violent rampage near 153 Street and Stony Plain Road.

Meanwhile, Cotton said police are well-trained and well-informed when it comes to dealing with those who have mental-health issues. Judging by statistics, officers have gained a lot of experience over the years, she said.

Cotton says around 6% to 10% of the calls police receive involve people with mental-health problems.

"Probably the most important thing is for a police officer to recognize a person may be mentally ill and therefore may not be able to respond the way they would expect someone to. Normally, if you don't do something a police officer asks, they don't look on that favourably," she said.


But for the past decade, police have been trained on how to recognize and deal with such issues, she said.

The annual conference, held in different cities each year, is a way to gather and forward that effort, she added.

"The most exciting thing about this is it's one of the good news stories about policing," she said.

The conference runs through tomorrow at the Delta Edmonton Centre Suite Hotel.

This conference is hosted by the Canadian National Committee for Police/Mental Health Liaison, a subcommittee of The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (whose annual conference is sponsored BIG-TIME by Taser International). On the CACP website, the conference is referred to as the "7th Annual Conference on Police/Mental Health Systems Liaison." The conference Agenda refers to the conference as the "7th Annual Psychiatrists in Blue Conference."

Dr. Graeme Dowling from the medical examiner's office in Edmonton, who has argued there's "no definitive case where Tasers have actually killed anybody," will facilitate the session on "Excited Delirium."

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