December 1, 2009
The Canadian Press/CBC
The Halifax police service is training its officers to better defuse volatile situations involving mentally ill individuals so they don't have to resort to using stun guns, a fatality inquiry was told Tuesday.
Sgt. Dean Stienburg, who trains police on the use of force, said the department is trying to equip officers with the skills to detect signs of mental illness and to de-escalate situations before having to deploy stun guns.
He said the force has changed its policies on mental health training since Howard Hyde, a 45-year-old with a long history of paranoid schizophrenia, died in custody 30 hours after being shocked with a Taser by police.
"What we're focusing on now is when is it appropriate to use this device," he told the inquiry.
"What we're trying to do is raise awareness and how to recognize subtle clues … that the person needs assistance."
The inquiry is looking at how police officers and others in the justice system treated Hyde, who was off his medications and had been acting erratically leading up to his death.
Stienburg said police routinely adapt their training on mental health and the use of stun guns as research yields new information on the best use of the devices.
He said the force will change training guidelines next year to include emphasis on so-called empty-hand controls — or those that don't involve restraint devices — to restrain a person and avoid using a stun gun.
It also plans to train dispatchers to recognize signs of mental health disorders when a 911 call is made and to deploy Emergency Health Services in such cases.
Police not experts on psychological disorders
Stienburg said the force expects to instruct officers that people displaying signs of excited delirium should be treated as medical emergencies in need of immediate attention.
Some signs of the condition are profuse sweating, extreme strength, delusions and being impervious to pain — some of which Hyde displayed at the time.
The revisions by police come two years after Hyde was arrested following a complaint of a domestic assault. He was taken to police headquarters, where he was stunned with a Taser after becoming agitated as officers tried to fingerprint him.
He died the following day at the Central Nova Scotia Correctional Facility in Burnside. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death as excited delirium, linked to schizophrenia.
Stienburg said the force has also been training officers since 2008 in the use of verbal techniques designed to defuse a possibly volatile situation with someone experiencing a mental health crisis.
"We're on the right track with the training we're delivering," he said.
But he cautioned that research around the use of force on people with mental health disorders is an evolving issue and officers are not experts on recognizing psychological disorders.
"This is a health issue," he said. "We're not going to be able to fix this problem. … We're thrust into it."
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Tuesday, December 01, 2009
December 1, 2009