Course requires police "dialog" with "mentally ill" FWD

Tom Boland (
Tue, 22 Jun 1999 01:11:30 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  Toronto Star - June 21, 1999
     Greater Toronto Story:


     Face-to-face dialogue to be part of training

     By Joel Baglole  - Toronto Star Staff Reporter

A new training initiative requires police officers in Toronto to sit down
with mentally ill people and discuss their feelings toward each other.

 ``We're calling it destigmatizing one another,'' Constable Scott Maywood,
the Toronto police mental health and homeless co-ordinator, said at the
conclusion of the 24th annual International Congress on Law and Mental
Health, a week-long symposium held at the University of Toronto last week.

 ``The dialogue component is part of the over-all course we're offering our
officers, and it's mandatory for everyone.''

 The required talk between officers and the mentally ill is part of the
revamped crisis resolution-officer safety course.

 An earlier version of the course in Toronto was cancelled in 1994 after
the police budget was cut by $88 million. For the past five years, Toronto
police received no training regarding the mentally ill except for minor
instruction at the Ontario Police College.

 However, following the coroner's inquest into the February, 1997, police
shooting death of Edmond Yu, a homeless paranoid schizophrenic, the course
was reinstated.

 Each session of the course, which is being conducted at the force's C.O.
Bick College in Scarborough, runs five days and includes use-of-force
training as well as tactics on how to deal with people in a disturbed state.

 Maywood said it will take four years to put all police in Toronto through
the training - at an average rate of 1,300 officers a year.

He added that support agencies for the mentally ill, such as the Clarke
Institute, will help police to meet mentally ill people face-to-face.

 Maywood also said training on dealing with the mentally ill now focuses on
the principal of ``isolate and contain'' rather than engagement.

 ``Maybe it's just part of our culture, but many of our officers feel
they'll be labeled a coward if they back off in a situation,'' he said.
``We're trying to instil in them that that's not the case.''

 Ron Hoffman, a civil servant with the solicitor-general's ministry who
trains officers in use of force at the Ontario Police College, also spoke
at the seminar and agreed that training police to retreat is difficult.

 ``It's almost ingrained in police that they're on the scene and must act
on the situation,'' said Hoffman. ``But if a disturbed person isn't hurting
themself or anyone else, back off. Contain them and give them space to

 Maywood added that Toronto police have added three psychiatrists to their
emergency task force. The psychiatrists are on call to act as facilitators
between police and people with mental illness. They can also sign reports
committing people to hospital for a 72-hour observation.

 During the seminar, Gerald Doyle, a defence lawyer from Milwaukee, Wisc.,
who represented serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, rose to defend police.

 ``The question, could they have done something different, haunts every cop
in a shooting,'' he said. ``Sure, there are lots of times when cops
shouldn't pull the trigger. But I know five officers who are dead because
they didn't pull the trigger fast enough.''

 Between 1987 and 1997, 55 people were shot by police in Greater Toronto.
Of those 55, eight were mentally ill. Of the eight, four died.


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