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Friday, April 20, 2012

Toronto police call for public debate/broader public discussion on arming more officers with Tasers

April 20, 2012
Natalie Alcoba, Postmedia News

TORONTO — Toronto police Chief Bill Blair is calling for a public debate about equipping officers responding to situations involving emotionally disturbed people with Tasers.

The chief made his comments following a police services board meeting Thursday in which residents, activists and people who have suffered from mental illnesses pleaded for changes to the way officers handle such incidents.

The death of Michael Eligon, who was shot by Toronto police after leaving the psychiatric ward of Toronto East General Hospital, has roused public outrage — to the point where one physician said she will now think twice about calling officers for someone in an agitated state.

Eligon, 29, was carrying two pairs of scissors at the time of the shooting in February.

"I can't say with some certainty — or any certainty — that Taser was the answer (in the Eligon case), I don't know," Blair said. "But I think it's worthwhile to have the broader public discussion about the use of conductive energy devices" or any technology that "would enable us to resolve these very difficult, very dangerous situations, as safely as possible."

Peter Cuthbert, executive director of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said he's in favour of such a debate taking place.

"The CACP would welcome the opportunity to participate in that discussion," he said.

Cuthbert declined to comment on the operational policy of a specific police force, and said the organization would have its committee debate the issue before going public with a position on the matter.

In Toronto, only tactical officers and supervisors are equipped with Tasers. Cuthbert said the policy is similar for most police forces across the country.

An investigation into the death of Eligon, who had been roaming the neighbourhood in a hospital gown, socks and a toque, cleared the officer of any wrongdoing, but a coroner's inquest has since been called.

Police reported that of the two million calls officers responded to last year, 17,000 were for emotionally distressed people.

In all, 6,664 people were apprehended under the Mental Health Act.

The topic of Tasers did not come up during Thursday's board meeting. Speakers mainly called on Toronto police to move away from a "control" approach to one that "de-escalates" the situation and demanded better training.

Former Toronto mayor John Sewell, head of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition, also urged police to expand its mobile crisis intervention teams, which pair nurses with police, so that they operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, instead of just part-time and in select divisions.

"Toronto police need to pay more than just lip service to de-escalation," said Douglas Pritchard, a witness to the shooting of Eligon, who has joined a group called Never Again. "Why are people still dying in Toronto for lack of appropriate crisis response?"

The board asked Blair to report back on recommendations by a mental-health subcommittee, and to review procedures used to respond to incidents involving the mentally ill.

1 comment:

coopSpeak said...

Frankly I was quite surprised to read of this suggestion by Chief Blair of the TPS. I sit on the Toronto Police Services Board sub-committee for Community Mental Health and in a meeting only days before the committee made several recommendations for the board. At the heart of most of these recommendations was the underlaying theme that weapons were not the answer in dealing with most situations involving people who were obviously suffering from any of the numerous mental illnesses. We encouraged the police to spend more time in training focused around mental illness and also on de-escalation tactics.

Just an FYI: Cadets in their year training at the police college receive ONE hour of training around mental health and 3 hours of training on de-escalation involving mental health. I am on record at the TPSB CMHC as saying that this is simply not enough training and that if the TPS put as much effort in to training as they did trying to increase the amount of weaponry at their disposal the public would be far better served.