Toronto police lay out changes to how officers deal with those in crisis
Toronto police have undergone a “cultural change” in dealing with those in crisis in the wake of two reports that scrutinized the force’s policies, Chief Mark Saunders said Thursday.
Police told the Toronto Police Services Board they’ve implemented the majority of recommendations issued as part of a coroner’s inquest and in a separate report by a former Supreme Court justice on officers’ use of lethal force.
“De-escalation is at the forefront, not at the end of policing,” Saunders said after the board’s meeting. That approach involves talking with a person in distress in an effort to defuse the crisis and make the use of force unnecessary.
Deputy Chief Mike Federico said the force has adopted a “zero harm” approach in its interactions with people experiencing mental-health issues.
He said 45 of the 46 police-related recommendations made in the inquest have been applied, as well as 79 of the 84 issued in the probe by Frank Iacobucci.
Further changes are proposed, the police chief said, including the use of a so-called “sock” gun — a modified shotgun that fires soft bullets similar to a bean bag. The orange-coloured guns will be used in place of regular shotguns in police cruisers by the new year, he said.
“I feel that if it’s used properly it’s going to help us out tremendously,” Saunders said, adding the gun is another non-lethal tool that can help de-escalate a situation. He said police receive 20,000 calls for people in distress each year.
Pat Capponi, the co-chair of the police mental-health subcommittee, lauded police for their new approach but expressed concerns about the sock gun.
“It’s like getting hit with a fastball and then it’s too late to talk,” she said. “That’s not really good opening dialogue. As a last resort, whenever possible, not first.”
Mayor John Tory also voiced his support for the sock gun as a last resort, “with the first resort always being to de-escalate and to talk people through situations before you have to use any other means.”
Police said new recruits will receive three more weeks of training to emphasize de-escalation techniques, something critics have long been calling for.
The use of body-worn cameras is also meant to help keep officers accountable for their actions in dealing with those in crisis.
The Iacobucci report was sparked by the killing of a teenager on an empty streetcar two years ago.
The coroner’s inquest, meanwhile, looked into the deaths of Reyal Jardine-Douglas, Sylvia Klibingaitis and Michael Eligon, who all had mental-health issues when they were shot by police.
Credit: Hamilton Spectator