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Report: equip officers with tasers

October 25th, 2014 · No Comments

Iacobucci calls for a shift to a “zero deaths” police culture

By Brian Burchell

It’s been just over a year since Sammy Yatim was shot and killed by Toronto police on a TTC streetcar on Dundas Street.

Constable James Forcillo of Toronto Police Service (TPS) 14 Division was charged just 30 days after the shooting by the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) with second-degree murder.

At the same time, Police Chief Bill Blair commissioned a review of the force’s use of force by police specifically in cases involving emotionally disturbed persons. Blair asked former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci for a review that focused on service-wide issues and how to make the force more effective in such encounters with the public.

This move by Blair is an unusual step which underscored a sense that the issues at hand go well beyond the specific circumstances of the Yatim shooting, but it also allowed Blair to show that a transparent and arm’s-length assessment was needed of TPS policy and procedures in such circumstances.

Justice Iacobucci released his eighty-four recommendations under nine broad topics on July 24, 2014.

The retired supreme court justice was not hesitant to observe that there needs to be a change in police culture, as well as more specialized training, increased availability of special intervention teams, the equipment of front line officers with body cameras, an increased use and an assessment of conducted-energy-weapons (or tasers as they are commonly known), more selective police recruitment strategies, and regular assessments of the mental health of police officers themselves; perhaps outside of his mandate, Iacobucci also made recommendations about the intersection of the mental health care system in Ontario and the role of the Toronto police.

Chief Blair welcomed the recommendations and he vowed at the press conference in remarks about the report that “this will not gather dust, but momentum.”

Gary Pieters, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, welcomed the report: “What we would like to see is that this report gets into the hands of every single rank and file officer. We want to see that the recommendations, and the steps to make those recommendations reality in the daily work of policing, are embedded into the culture of these officers.”

According to the report, the TPS is dispatched to approximately 20,000 calls for service annually to “persons-in-crisis”, and about 8,000 of these events involve apprehensions under the Mental Health Act. Of these encounters, between 2002 and 2012, five have resulted in “emotionally disturbed persons” being fatally shot.

The data supplied by the TPS did not include 2013 and therefore does not include the shooting of Sammy Yatim.

In the TPS only supervisors carry tasers as an alternative to the more lethal weapon of a service revolver.

The taser proved to be utterly useless in the case of the shooting, as a sergeant arriving late to the scene demonstrated by choosing, perhaps inexplicably, to use it on Yatim after he had been shot nine times by Constable Forcillo.

Peter Rosenthal, a social justice lawyer, responded to questions from the Gleaner about the report and specifically about the suggestion of increased access to tasers for front-line officers. “In general, I welcome the Iacobucci Report. Its recommendations about de-escalation are excellent, and that is the crucial reform that is required to lessen police killings.”

Rosenthal was critical of the report’s recommendations around taser usage, especially since tasers are not the weapons that should be used when the person that police are facing has a weapon.

“The recommendation to increase taser use, even in a limited way, is unfortunate in my view. Many officers currently have tasers. The training is NOT to use a taser if someone has a weapon. This is because a taser is not adequate as an alternative to a firearm. The reason is clear: a taser is not reliable enough to ensure protection if a suspect presents an immediate threat of serious injury or death. Tasers are not effective unless both darts land properly, and it is very difficult to aim tasers, especially if the target is in motion (as the target can move substantially during the time the darts fly through the air). Thus increased availability of tasers will mean many people will be victims of taser use (as has happened even with the present restricted taser use) and it will not lessen police killings.”

The director of communications for the Toronto police, Mark Pugash, also responded to questions from the Gleaner about the report, specifically about the next steps and what has changed in the force since the shooting of Yatim: “The recommendations have not been costed. Keep in mind that the Iacobucci report also touches on bodies other than the TPS. Chief Blair has created an external advisory committee and made clear the sense of urgency he feels with respect to implementing the recommendations. The Iacobucci report was commissioned in the aftermath of the shooting, to examine our training, policy, procedures, equipment, supervision. It has come back with 84 recommendations. We have started the process of implementation.”

Pugash urged that people recognize “the shooting of Sammy Yatim by a Toronto police officer last year was one percent of a much larger picture, and the report helps us see all the rest.”

 

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