Details of Iacobucci report implementation revealed by Toronto Police
Sep 16 2015
It was a report Toronto was assured would not “gather dust.”
As he hoisted the thick, 300-page review into the air, former Toronto Police chief Bill Blair promised the comprehensive review into police interactions with emotionally disturbed people would instead “gather momentum.”
Prepared by retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci, the review — called “Police Encounters with People in Crisis” — was prompted by the July 2013 death of teenager Sammy Yatim, shot dead while alone on a Toronto streetcar by Toronto police Const. James Forcillo.
Charged with second-degree murder in Yatim’s death, Forcillo was back in court this week for pretrial-motions in the case. Jury selection is scheduled for the end of the month and is expected to last several days.
After a year of extensive research and dozens of interviews, Iacobucci produced a detailed list of 84 recommendations, all aimed at one thing: zero deaths — not of officers, not of people in crisis, not anyone.
More than a year later, Toronto Police say they have implemented, in some form, 79 of Iacobucci’s recommendations, which range from increased training, to changes to hiring practices, to a shift in the workplace culture.
A full review on the implementation of each recommendation will be presented to the Toronto police board Thursday. It will also receive a run-down of the action taken on all recommendations from the triple inquest into the Toronto police shooting deaths of Sylvia Klibingaitis, Michael Eligon and Reyal Jardine-Douglas, many of which overlap with the Iacobucci report.
“I think they’ve done a really good job of most of the responses,” says Pat Capponi, who was recently awarded the Order of Canada for her advocacy on mental health issues, and who sits on the Toronto police board’s mental health committee.
Below, some of the changes Toronto police have made in the wake of Iacobucci’s report and the recommendations they won’t take up.
‘Zero death’ police culture
A major theme of Iacobucci’s report was promoting a shift in police thinking away from a belief that deaths are inevitable. Following suit, Toronto police deputy chief Mike Federico says a major emphasis has now been placed on promoting — through training to hiring practices to supervision — Iacobucci’s central theme.
“We’ve established a goal of zero harm — zero injuries, zero deaths,” Federico said in an interview Monday.
Iacobucci recommended the force write a formal statement setting out the service’s commitments to people experiencing mental health issues, something that should be public and given equal weight to the Toronto police core values. This statement, available on the Toronto police website, was written and posted the same day Iacobucci’s report was released.
Since then, changes have been made to ensure the force is attracting the kinds of employees who will readily accept their role in ensuring zero harm is incurred during encounters with people in crisis. Recruiters will continue to place emphasis on applicants with post secondary education, and is now stipulating that a preferred applicant is one who has completed Canada’s Mental Health first aid course.
Improving accountability of their officers is also tied in with improved work culture, something Toronto police hope to achieve through everything from the use of body-worn cameras to improving the collection of officer-written data after incidences of use of force, Federico said.
The zero-deaths goal is “what I’m most impressed with,” said Capponi. “We were told that that couldn’t happen because that would cause an officer to hesitate, and if they hesitated, they would be killed. But we actually want them to hesitate . . . to take all the necessary time to de-escalate.”
By the time they hit the streets of Toronto, officers have completed 20 weeks training in total — two weeks of orientation at Toronto Police College (TPC), 12 weeks of basic constable training at the Ontario Police College, then six more weeks at TPC.
Though the weeks are intensive, Iacobucci expressed doubt that this was enough time to teach all topics and skills required to police effectively. In response, Toronto police have tacked on three more weeks of training, beginning with the next class of recruits. More time means more training focusing on responding to emotionally disturbed persons and the de-stigmatization of mental illness, Federico said.
The annual training officers receive has also been extended, bumped up from two days to three to include increased training on de-escalation. In both cases, the training curriculum has been developed in part by people who have lived experience with mental illness.
“We made a video of people, and these guys were talking about what escalates and what de-escalates for them. One guy said, if (the officers) look more scared than me, that’s like throwing gasoline on the fire,” said Capponi. “And some women talked about how a bunch of men throwing orders at them triggers them.”
The use of Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams
Iacobucci called for the increased use of the Toronto police Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams, a program that sees a mental-health nurse partnered with a specially trained police officer to respond to emergency calls involving people with mental health challenges.
In response, Toronto police have made some changes to the program while other aspects remain live issues, Federico said.
The force directly responded to Iacobucci’s recommendation that it make mandatory the notification of MCIT units for every call involving a person in crisis. It is also ensuring that the Toronto Police Operations Centre is informed about the availability of MCIT and MCIT-trained officers so they can be deployed city-wide.
The hours of operation have also been tweaked to ensure availability during peak times, typically midday and late afternoon, Federico said. But the teams will not be available 24-hours a day, as some advocates have been calling for; Iacobucci recommended the force aim to provide a specialized, trained response to people in crisis 24 hours per day.
Toronto police say they are aiming for this by extending the invitation to all officers on the force to attend MCIT training. That means the force is “expanding its pool of specially trained officers who are available during the hours when MCIT are not.”
Federico says there is a “continual assessment of the hours of operation… It’s a live issue.”
Tasers and alternatives to lethal force
Toronto police did not agree with six of Iacobucci’s 84 recommendations, three of them to do with Conducted Energy Weapons, or Tasers.
Iacobucci recommended the force consider expanding their use, study the medical effects of the weapon — including what happens when used on those in crisis — and that it consider making changes to when an officer can justifiably use a Taser.
Toronto police said a resounding “no” to the latter, opting to allow officers armed with Tasers to use the weapons whenever he or she “believes a subject is threatening or displaying assaultive behaviour or, taking into account the totality of the circumstances, the officer believes there is an imminent need for control of a subject.” The force also declined to study the medical effect of Tasers, saying it is satisfied that “current medical research has found no persuasive evidence of risk to vulnerable persons.”
It is possible Toronto police could one day expand the use of Tasers — currently, only front-line supervisors, about 275 officers, have the weapon. In 2013, the force submitted an application to the board that could see an additional 184 officers equipped with Tasers, but the plan was put on hold until the province released revised guidelines on the weapons.
Instead, some officers will be equipped with a less-lethal weapon that shoots what’s known as a “sock round.” These soft bullets, similar to bean bags and are fired from a specially designated shot gun, do not penetrate the skin. The report does not say when the weapon will be deployed to officers.
Credit: Toronto Star