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Friday, June 10, 2011

Councillors back crisis intervention team concept

June 9, 2011
By MORGAN IAN ADAMS, Enterprise-Bulletin

COLLINGWOOD -- Councillors have gotten behind the push to create team to deal with individuals in crisis.

The idea was presented to the town's police services board in January by Marcus Firman, whose son, Aron, was killed in a confrontation with police last June.

Aron Firman died after he was hit with a conductive energy weapon, commonly referred to as a Taser, after OPP officers were sent to a St. Marie Street group home to deal with a domestic disturbance.

Firman, who was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, attempted to flee when he was told he was going to be taken into custody. In doing so, Firman struck an officer ; when it appeared he was advancing on another officer, that officer discharged the Taser on the 27-year-old man.

Firman died at the scene of cardiac arrythmia brought on by the use of the weapon on an individual in an agitated state, according to the coroner.

The province's Special Investigations Unit has cleared the subject officer of any wrongdoing, though SIU director Ian Scott has pointed the blame for Firman's death on the use of the Taser.

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

The crisis team proposed by Marcus Firman is similar to what has been put in place in other jurisdictions such as Toronto and Hamilton; the Toronto Police Service created such a team in the wake of a coroner's inquest into the death of Edmund Yu, a mentally-ill man shot and killed by Toronto police officers in 1997. The team would most likely consist of a mental health nurse and a plainclothes police officer, who would also preferably be unarmed.

The team could be called out to de-escalate situations where police have been called to an incident involving a person in crisis.

On Monday night, Collingwood councillors threw their unanimous support to petition the province to establish a provincial team, or consider a funding model that would allow health organizations and police services to establish local or regional crisis intervention teams.

Marcus Firman applauded council's decision.

"I think it's great that the council is being proactive in supporting the police services board in this initiative," he said. "It's the right thing to do.

"In 18 days time (June 24), it will be the one-year anniversary of Aron's death, and for sure that death would not have happened if there had been a crisis intervention unit in place at the time.

Firman is expecting the coroner to announce an inquest into his son's death -- though when that announcement could occur is anyone's guess; coroner's inquests are typically called when an individual dies in police custody.

"No doubt, in my mind, that the inquest would recommend the institution of an intervention unit," said Firman. "I think council is doing what they can with the province and the OPP to try and move (the concept of an intervention team) forward.

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