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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Father calls for OPP crisis team

January 19, 2011

COLLINGWOOD -- The father of a man who died after being Tasered by a Collingwood OPP officer wants to see the detachment create a team to deal with people in crisis.

Aron Firman, 27, died last June after an officer sent to investigate a disturbance call used a Taser on him.

Firman was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.

His father, Marcus, says his son's death would not have happened had the OPP had a mobile crisis intervention team in place.

On Monday, he and solicitor Julian Falconer pitched the idea of a team to the Collingwood Police Services Board. The board accepted the recommendation in principle and will see whether the idea could work.

"It's baby steps, and putting in place (what's needed) to make it happen," Firman said after his deputation to the board. "It's better to be proactive than reactive, because if they're reactive, then what's the risk and liability of not doing something?

"This is not about guilt, this is about putting something in place to protect the most vulnerable people."

The concept presented to the board would be to have a two-person team, one a plainclothes officer, and the other a mental health nurse. The team could be called out to de-escalate situations where police have been called to an incident involving a person in crisis.

Firman pointed to the crisis intervention team created by the Toronto Police Service as a result of the Edmund Yu inquest -- Yu was a mentally-ill man shot to death by police on a TTC bus in 1997 -- that dealt with more than 300 cases in 2010, "all of which were resolved without the use of violence."

Firman also asked the police services board to approach the G&M Hospital to participate.

Falconer, who has been hired by the family to represent them at any future inquest, and has worked on behalf of other families in similar circumstances, told the board the need to implement the team is "a human need to prevent future tragedies."

He also pointed to the deaths of two other individuals -- Doug Minty and Levi Schaeffer -- that occurred around the same time as Aron Firman's, "and each one suffered from a mental disability."

None were criminals, said Falconer, and died as a result of "a misperception of what was happening," because of their disabilities.

In the Firman case, the province's Special Investigations Unit found there weren't grounds to charge the officer who used the Taser and the use of the device was justified by the situation.

"This is not a one-off, this is not a fluke," said Falconer. "You have the opportunity to make an important change. This is not about doing battle (legally), but about an opportunity to institute a change.

"Had the mobile crisis team been available (for Aron Firman), it would have made a tremendous difference," he said. "We ask a lot of our police, but they don't sign up to be counsellors or psychiatrists -their primary focus is to enforce the law... and expecting them to (get involved) in complicated matters when they're not specialized is unrealistic."

Board chairman Paul Montgomery noted the pair "made a compelling case in principle . . . (but) implementation is another question.

"Obviously it's a good idea; I just don't know whether or not it would be possible."

The municipality might have to review its contract with the OPP.

"It deserves an examination," added Collingwood OPP detachment commander John Trude.

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