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(Photo credit: Maclean’s Magazine, David Lam | Constable Ken Lam [left] with his father)
After the horrific attack in Toronto that left ten innocent victims dead, there was an outpouring of grief from all corners of the country, unified on social media through the #TorontoStrong hashtag. Trailing quickly behind was praise for Constable Ken Lam, of the Toronto Police Department, the “officer who didn’t shoot,” who, rather than deploy lethal force, talked the suspect down and facilitated a safe arrest.
Refraining from firing his gun led to the best possible outcome, and Constable Lam should be praised for his measured approach where he de-escalated a situation that could have very easily ended in one more life lost. He did it right: turning off his siren and lights and using his communication skills instead of lethal force. Credit should be given to the individual officer, but should not extend to the force he represents.
Effusive praise of the police obscures the reality that there are many instances where officers kill, resorting to violence over words and relying on fear over reason—in effect, doing the exact opposite of what Constable Lam did along Yonge Street earlier in April. His actions should be the norm, not the exception, and police departments across Canada have much work to do in order to make that a reality.
By contrast, this example of good policing underscores the repeated failures of so many officers to approach situations like Constable Lam—and there are many.
Perhaps the most egregious example of police violence in recent years played out in Toronto’s west end in 2013: Constable James Forcillo shot and killed 18-year-old Sammy Yatim while he was on a streetcar. The officer fired nine times. As described by the Toronto Star, “Yatim died in a barrage of Forcillo’s bullets… Within less than a minute of arriving on scene... He first fired three bullets, including the fatal shot to Yatim’s heart, then fired six more as Yatim lay on the floor of the streetcar, paralyzed and dying.”
(Photo credit: Canadian Press, Toronto Star, Facebook | James Forcillo and Sammy Yatim)
This approach lies in such stark contrast to how Constable Lam talked a distraught suspect down, even backing away as he approached the officer to buy himself more time. This is what could have happened in the case of Tony Du. And if it did, he would likely still be alive today to spend time with a loving family and care for his elderly mother, as he was doing at the time of his death.
In November of 2014 Tony Du, 51, was shot and killed by Constable Andrew Peters, of the Vancouver Police Department, “within minutes” of the officer and his partner arriving on scene. Du, described as a “gentle giant” by a pre-eminent psychiatric expert, was suffering a mental health episode at the time. He did not have the good fortune of being met by a calm, level-headed officer adept at de-escalating the situation appropriately. Instead, he was shot and killed.
(Photo credit: Peter Kim | Memorial for Tony Du at a rally after coroner's inquest | February 2018)
Pivot represented the family of Tony Du at a recent coroner’s inquest into his death. Out of that painful process the disturbing facts around police violence were laid bare, and the jury released 29 recommendations to ensure tragedies like this—fueled by inadequate policing (and police)—never happen again.Read more
A complaint file may contain many allegations of misconduct involving multiple police officers. The Vancouver Police Department received the most complaints and is also the largest police force (source: OPCC Annual Report 2016/17). Data does not reflect complaints about the RCMP as the OPCC only has jurisdiction over municipal police forces.
(Photo credit: Peter Kim; memorial at Tony Du vigil; Feb. 10, 2018)
For the first time in more than three interminable years, the family of Tony Du learned how their beloved family member died: two gunshot wounds from bullets fired by a Vancouver Police Department officer. After he fell to the ground, the 51-year-old “gentle giant” suffered further indignity when officers cuffed him rather than provide immediate first aid. These details formed part of the evidence heard at the coroner’s inquest into his death.
(Photo credit: BC Coroners Service; shooting scene; Nov. 22, 2014)
Lawyer Frances Mahon, represented the family of Tony Du, in conjunction with Pivot Legal Society. Together, we urged the inquest jury to make recommendations that would improve police response to mental health crises, protect public safety, and ensure independent, civilian-led investigation of police-related injuries or deaths.
It was an honour for the Pivot team to be there with the members of Tony’s family, who demonstrated incredible strength as they sat in the front row during every minute of the week-long proceeding. After days of evidence and a lengthy, clinical, and precise description of Tony’s fatal injuries by forensic pathologist Dr. Matthew Orde, the family had only one question, asked through lawyer Frances Mahon: “did he suffer?”Read more
The Memphis Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) is an innovative police-based first responder program that has become nationally known as the "Memphis Model" of pre-arrest jail diversion for those in a mental illness crisis. This program provides law enforcement-based crisis intervention training for helping those individuals with mental illness. Involvement in CIT is voluntary and based in the patrol division of the police department. In addition, CIT works in partnership with those in mental health care to provide a system of services that is friendly to the individuals with mental illness, family members, and the police officers. CIT has been recognized as a best practice model by multiple (US) organizations (Source: http://www.cit.memphis.edu)Read more
Pivot Legal Society calls for systemic changes to police training and policy around mental health-related calls at coroner's inquest into the death of Tony Du
For Immediate Release
February 5, 2018
Vancouver, BC – Living with mental illness should not be a death sentence, but it was for 51-year-old Tony Du, who was shot and killed by a Vancouver police officer in 2014 “within minutes” of the officer arriving on scene according to witnesses. Pivot Legal Society, along with lawyer Frances Mahon, is supporting the family of Tony Du during this week’s coroner’s inquest into his death.
To help ensure public safety, especially for those living with mental illness, Pivot Legal Society is making the following recommendations:
- Implementation of the Memphis Model Crisis Intervention Team program for the Vancouver Police Department (VPD). This consists of 40 hours of training for 20% of general duty officers who are selected for appropriate characteristics, abilities, and backgrounds, and are designated as Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) officers. These officers wear special identification, and there would be at least one on duty in each district every shift. While performing regular patrol, they would be prioritized as first responders in suspected mental health-related calls.
- The use of plain clothes officers in unmarked vehicles as the preferred secondary option for responding to suspected incidents of mental health distress.
- Training for 911 call takers and dispatch personnel to recognize signs of mental health distress and engage specific protocols appropriate for those circumstances.
- Whenever possible, use of shields as opposed to guns and tasers during incidents of mental health distress where there is a weapon or risk of violence.
- Promotion of a department-wide culture shift, to use a calm, patient, and de-escalating approach when officers engage members of the public in crisis, rather than the traditional authoritative and commanding manner.
(Credit: The Telegraph)
In this video police in the UK safely disarmed a distraught man with a machete using safety shields rather than lethal bullets. Notice how they encircle and distract him, all the while maintaining contact and composure. This could have been the outcome when a Vancouver police officer engaged Tony Du near the intersection of Knight St. and 41st Ave. on November 22, 2014, if the Vancouver Police Department had a similar engagement policy in place. Instead an officer shot and killed Du "within minutes" of arriving on scene according to witnesses. Tony Du later died, and his family is devastated and traumatized by the loss.
Policing Policy Consultant
This graph was featured in It's time we believe Black communities when they tell us street checks are harmful.