When the Toronto Sun editorial and campaigners against police shooting of people in mental distress can find themselves in easy agreement you know that something is going very wrong with policing in our city. The current inquiry into three incidents, the commissioning of an internal inquiry are further evidence that policing of incidents involving emotionally distressed people is at a crisis point in this city [and it’s not Toronto- other cities are struggling too.]
Police chief Bill Blair’s response to his officers having shot so many distressed Torontonians lately is that he wants all his officers to be equipped with and trained in use of a less-lethal option: Tazers “stun guns” at a cost of about $4.2 million– or about $2,000 for each device.. The police service is currently seeking approval from the Police Service Board for an initial tranche of the less-lethal weapons for $400,000.
Emotionally Disturbed = emotionally distressed
Police officers do certainly need more options when it comes to better ways to deal with what they term EPD – “Emotionally Disturbed Person” – incidents but a stun guns is no more the answer than a cattle prod would be. having a new gizmo might sound a whizzo idea for a holiday wish list but they detract attention and may just get in the way of figuring out what we really do need . If police officers have less violent options fewer of them might be traumatized by their own experiences in such incidents.
A simple [not easy, but simple] first step might be to recognize that emotionally disturbed persons are also emotional distressed people . We wouldn’t even need to change the acronym but it might help officers in difficult situation remember that force is not their only, maybe not even their best option. Police officers have a difficult job and have to make difficult calls in an instant, but weapons: be they lethal, non-lethal or less lethal are not as good at dealing with complex messy human situations as the human brain – and every officer comes ready-equiped with one of those.
Chief Bill Blair is likely pretty busy this week watching videos of the mayor but you can contact him about this. You can also contact your councillor, and you can contact the Vice Chair of the Police Services Board, Cllr Michael Thompson who is already inclined to vote “no” to the request. Give some power to his elbow.
Why not let them all know what you think.
Go on give them all a busier day: fill their inbox – details included below.
Bill Blair, Toronto Police Chief
Alok Mukherjee, Chair, Toronto Police Services Board
web:online submission form
Councillor Michael Thompson
Vice Chair, Toronto Police Services Board
Ward 37 Scarborough Centre
Toronto City Hall
100 Queen Street West, Suite B24
Tasers no cure-all for police shootings
Thursday August 29th, 2013
MARK WANZEL, QMI AGENCY
A Taser is a tool for the police to use. Nothing more.
It’s not a cure-all when it comes to ending armed confrontations with mentally ill or emotionally disturbed individuals who are incapable of responding to police commands.
Tasers give a properly trained police officer another option, short of a gun, to end stand-offs peacefully.
Improperly used, they can lead to serious injury and death in situations which don’t require them.
There was a reason why, until this week, Toronto police only issued Tasers to supervisory officers and Emergency Task Force members. It was out of concern Tasers, improperly used, could lead to tragic deaths like that of Robert Dziekanski, killed at the Vancouver airport in 2007 after being confronted by four RCMP officers.
In the wake of the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Sammy Yatim last month on the 505 Dundas St. W. streetcar by Const. James Forcillo, now charged with second-degree murder, Community Safety Minister Madeleine Meilleur has announced all police officers in Ontario will be able to carry Tasers.
While Police Chief Bill Blair supports the idea, where is the money going to come from within his cash-strapped force?
Queen’s Park isn’t offering any for training, or for the $1,500 cost of each Taser.
Further, is the 12 hours of training police will receive sufficient to ensure Tasers will be used properly and only in situations requiring them?
Finally, the use of Tasers is secondary to two major challenges we face in reducing these tragedies.
The first is ensuring police use-of-force guidelines and de-escalation training properly prepare officers for dealing with armed suspects who are incapable of responding rationally to police commands.
The second is addressing the fact the provincial government’s practice of de-institutionalizing the mentally ill, without putting supports in the community to help them, is creating these tragedies.
Yatim’s family says he had no history of mental illness and we believe them.
But his actions, according to witnesses — threatening female passengers with a knife in one hand and his penis in the other — were irrational.
Unless we can help such individuals before a confrontation occurs, there will be more and more of these incidents, regardless of how many officers have Tasers.
Toronto Sun, 24th Sep 2013
- Chief Bill Blair asks for $386,000 to buy 184 more Tasers for Toronto cops (metronews.ca)
- Chief Bill Blair asks for $386,000 to boost Toronto’s Taser arsenal by one-third (thestar.com)
- Peel Region police sued over Tasering 80-year-old Mississauga woman (metronews.ca)
- Toronto Police board unsure about expansion of tasers (o.canada.com)
- California police use of body cameras cuts violence and complaints (recoverynetworktoronto.wordpress.com)
- Toronto Police Services Board holds public meeting on Tasers (globalnews.ca)
- Toronto Police board to consider buying more Tasers, ahead of public meeting (metronews.ca)
- Tasers, Intended As Nonlethal Weapons, Kill Far Too Often (foxct.com)
- Have Your Say on TPS Taser Use (paralegalscope.com)
- Tasers no cure for undue police violence: DiManno (thestar.com)