Toronto Police Accountability Coalition


TPAC to Iacobucci Review, February 24, 2014


March 05 2014

Toronto Police Accountability Coalition
c/o Suite 206, 401 Richmond Street West, Toronto ON M5V 3A8.
416 977 5097. ,

February 24, 2014.

To: Honourable Frank Iacobucci,
Review of Use of Force, Toronto Police Service

Your Honour:

The following are our comments to the Review. We generally follow the order of the issues laid out on your letter of January 29, 2104.

Toronto Police Accountability Coalition is a group that for the past 14 years has paid attention to policy issues concerning the Toronto Police. Our role is to make positive suggestions for appropriate change to make Toronto police more efficient and more accountable, and to better serve the residents of our city. We publish a bi-monthly electronic Bulletin which is available at no cost, and currently have an email list of more than 850. We have focused on a number of important issues including how the police interact with those in mental crisis, strip searches, police chases, carding, police spending, and police release of personal information.

We understand that police work in Toronto today has changed considerably from what it was twenty and thirty years ago. Because of the neglectful way in which those with mental and emotional issues are dealt with in society, and the limited services available to them, police officers are now often the front line staff who must deal with those in mental crisis. Often those suffering such crises are in a public space, or in a private space that does not offer them safety, and police are called in to deal with them. Some have said that one third or more incidents in which police are called to intervene involve someone with an emotional disturbance, mental illness, or a developmental disability. We believe that police are not responding appropriately to these new challenges.

1. TPS policies, procedures and practises.

The current policy of the Toronto Police Services Board regarding those in mental crisis is simply not good enough. It states that, The Chief of police will establish procedures and processes in respect of police response to persons who are emotionally disturbed or have a mental illness or a developmental disability. It gives no hint of what direction those procedures and processes should take, or the outcomes which should be achieved.

It is critical that the Board have a more specific and clear policy to govern the behaviour and attitude of officers. Every year Toronto police are directly involved in the deaths of two or three persons in mental crisis, and in almost every case different actions by the police could have meant that someone did not die. Further, almost one half of those who are tasered by police each year are subject to some kind of mental crisis.

Officers need different policies to follow when dealing with those in mental crisis (a term that will be used in this brief to cover those who are emotionally disturbed or have a mental illness or a developmental disability.) Those policies should state that when police are dealing with someone functioning in an odd or irrational manner, is non-responsive or otherwise indicating that there is some degree of mental crisis, the police role is not to exercise control, but to pull back and de-escalate the situation. That must be the impact of the policy.

We believe that police culture plays a major role in the choices police officers make and the way they behave. The implementation of more appropriate policies must recognize the constraints police culture places on an individual officers beliefs about the options they have in these types of situations, and that simply directing officers to act in a different manner may not be effective. Instead, some other mechanism may be necessary, such as using a Mobile Crisis Intervention Team - teams which include a plain clothes officer and a mental health nurse working together  to effectively de-escalate. The new policy should take account of the role of culture in police behaviour with those in mental crisis.

The primary goals of policies and procedures regarding those in mental crisis should be to conduct and resolve crisis situations with minimal harm to officers, bystanders, and the person in conflict with the police. This requires strategies that take the time required to de-escalate and defuse situations in preference to exercising immediate control. Use of Force protocols should be withheld when dealing with an individual in mental crisis until it is clear de-escalation is not effective. These policies and processes should also be extended to persons who appear to be unresponsive possibly because of a developmental disability or because they are deaf. Consideration should be given to extending these policies to situations involving children.

2. TPS training, and training at the Ontario Police College

Basic police training does not equip officers to deal well with situations involving those in mental crisis. Basic training teaches officers how to control any situation they are called to  Put your hands where I can see them! On the ground! or whatever  and to use a Use of Force model to ensure compliance. This is often exactly the wrong response for someone in mental crisis: being threatened by a police officer who wants control can often lead to the individual becoming frightened and reacting by attacking the officers. Evidence during a recent inquest indicated that when individuals do not respond to commands in a way the officer expects, the officer is taught to shoot.

What is required instead, is a strategy by the officers that de-escalates the tension, a strategy which produces calmness so the individual will relax.

Police officers require a fundamentally different kind of basic training than they now receive. They must be trained to distinguish between situations where they are dealing with someone in a mental crisis and therefore they must de-escalate the emotional tension, and situations where a control tactic is more appropriate. This requires a fundamental re-examination and critical review of police training  it wont happen overnight. Trying to teach existing officers a whole new way of intervening which conflicts with their basic training will be of very limited use since police culture with its emphasis on controlling and subduing individuals and use of weapons has a major impact on those who have been officers for a few years or more.

Training can be more effective for new recruits, although they might find this training undermined by police culture once they are in a police force. Some alternative training may be transformative, such as a significant placement (of two or more months) in a psychiatric institution or agency that works with people having psychological or developmental disabilities. This kind of placement can help officers examine their own fears and stereotypes about mental illness, and thus change their own attitudes. It should become a standard part of recruit training.

The important point to recognize is that existing training does not give officers the skills they need to deal with the work they are called to do. Different training is needed at the Ontario Police College, followed by different training for new recruits at the Toronto Police College, as well as community placements.

3. Equipment used by TPS.

We noted in an earlier letter the wise comment of Jim Coyle, writing in the Toronto Star on April 17,1999: "It's a bitter irony that more effort goes into giving people better weapons than giving them the tools they need not to use the weapons".

Police often use the argument that Tasers are needed since they save the lives of the mentally ill and others. But as experience shows, and as evidence before the just concluded coroners inquest into the deaths of three persons killed by Toronto police in recent years has shown, officers pull out their guns when they feel threatened  indeed they are trained to do that - as they did with these three individuals, and in the case of Sammy Yatim who was tasered only after he had been shot eight times and was dead or dying. The police argument is one that says more technology will solve the problem, but that argument has no merit in these cases. Tasers arent the answer.

As for police guns, it has been pointed out that the bullets used by police  40 caliber, 180 grain, hollow point  are deadly, designed more to kill elephants than to contain human beings. Theres no reason why such powerful bullets should be given to police as a standard supply. Of course, guns arent the answer either.

4. Psychological assessments and other evaluations of TPS police officers and officer candidates.

The recruiting process for new officers in Toronto is similar to other forces in Canada: it aims to hire a person who is generally intelligent, well mannered, and in reasonable physical condition, and then to put that person at the bottom of the organization in a `generalist position. It gives no special preference to candidates with areas of expertise that a police force might need, such as language skills, cultural awareness, or special social, technical, or management skills. It assumes that all new recruits are much the same, will go through the same standardized training, and then begin by doing the same kind of work.

Virtually no other organization in Canada hires new employees in this manner. If a bank had a practice of allowing new hires to make decisions that could bankrupt you with little oversight, you would be reluctant to put your money there. If hospital orderlies were allowed to do surgery, you would be especially anxious submitting to an operation. People in other walks of life are generally hired in one of either two ways: either with the credentials and skills needed to actively contribute to and improve an organization, in which case there are job descriptions against which candidates are assessed; or as an apprentice who starts and works her way up by learning on the job, going to school for theory training, then back to work, and so on. Apprentices are not given the same responsibilities and pay when they start out as the person who has been on the job for many thousands of hours.

In policing, recruits start at the bottom of the organization but they are given a gun and treated and paid like they are a veteran police office almost right away, dealing with the same situations and having the same power to make decisions in these altercations with people no matter how long theyve been on the job. The police process for new employees seem to miss the benefits of these two processes used by other organizations: it neither focuses on the particular skills needed, nor does to recognize that new employees need to learn as an apprentice before exercising the extraordinary range of powers and responsibilities of an experienced officer.

Police hiring would improve if it learned from other organizations. If some new recruits were hired on the basis of skills after the posting of a job description, this would allow a force to hire a range of talent and experience that would help modernize policing to match the needs of contemporary society. Civilians who work for police organizations are hired for their skills fit for specific positions: why cant this also be the case for uniformed staff? If some new recruits were hired as apprentices, they could get the benefit of learning on the job from experienced officers and at school as they steadily build up their ability to exercise their full range of responsibilities.

These types of hiring would represent a big change for any police force, and experiments with them should take place slowly after careful thought. Several uniformed positions that require special skills, such as a person who deals often with those in mental crisis, should be determined, job descriptions prepared, and the needed skills identified. Appropriate training programs should be prepared. The job should be posted widely, and after interviews, a selection should be made followed by training tailored to suit the successful candidate. Care must be taken to ensure that these recruits are not isolated from other uniformed officers: every attempt should be made at successful integration.

Making changes to existing psychological assessments and other selection mechanisms could be useful if it was clearer what function the new recruit, whether by apprenticeship or by job description, was expected to fill. New recruits could be assessed for their skills and understanding of how to work with particular groups  people with mental health problems, marginalized youth, abused women, etc.  on the understanding that they be placed in divisions or on squads that deal most often with those kinds of problem. It may be possible, for instance, to mandate that each division have a certain number of officers with particular skills and training to work with these populations/situations, and then recruit and train with these needs in mind.
We recognize that these issues of recruitment are complex, but we also think that new approaches will be beneficial for the police force and the residents of Toronto, as well as providing a better work environment for officers. As well, hiring on his basis might mean that MCITs could be fully staffed by members of the police force.

5. Supervision and oversight

The Toronto Police Services Board is the primary means of civilian oversight of police activities and of public management of the police. Its powers are set out in Section 31 of the Police Services Act and they are broad. There are two limitations to the Boards power, but both are the limitations expected of any board of directors of any company. First, the boards relationship is with the chief, to whom it may give orders and directions, but not to other members of the force, since they are under the direction of the chief. Second, the board shall not direct the chief of police with respect to specific operational decisions or with respect to the day-to-day operation of the police force. 
Any good board of directors will recognize the wisdom of these constraints, so that day to day management is left to the managers, while the board concentrates on policy.

As the 2012 Review by the Honourable John Morden on the G20 makes clear, the Toronto Police Services Board has been ineffective in providing oversight not only during the G20 but also in the general way it operates. The Review notes, "The Board has limited its consultative mandate and viewed it as improper to ask questions about, comment on, and make recommendations concerning operational matters. The Boards approach in this regard has been wrong. " (p. 6 of the Review)

Much of the Review is filled with examples of how the Board refused to provide any oversight of any of the matters regarding the G20: agreements, planning, command structures, training, laws, operations, prisoners.

Our experience with the Board and the direction provided to the chief on the matter of police dealing with those in mental crisis leads us to the same conclusions about this area of police operations. The Board has not played the supervisory and oversight roles that legislation requires. We have asked the Board on numerous occasions to take a stronger role to protect Toronto residents in mental crisis from the police, but it has always refused to do anything more than the chief has suggested on this issue. We have come to the conclusion that the Board does not wish to exercise its legislative role, nor does it have much interest in the plight of those in mental crisis. The result is that there is virtually no public supervision or accountability of the police service in respect to the way it deals with those in mental crisis.

We hope your report will stress the need for the Board to be vigilant in its supervisory and oversight functions.

6. The role of the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team currently employed by TPS.

We are strong supporters of Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams (MCITs), and they have been a success since they were established in Toronto almost nine years ago, both in diffusing situations for all concerned without using violence, and saving time and money for the Toronto police by arranging for those involved quick entry into health facilities where their needs can be addressed. Establishing more MCITs will in fact result in reduced expenditures for the police force.

We believe the Board should set out the directions for policies and procedures regarding MCITs to be established by the Chief. Those directions should include the following:

a) MCITs should be the primary response in cases where it appears a person is in mental crisis. At the present time in Toronto the MCIT is never the primary response unit  it is only called in once other officers have the situation `under control. Sometimes this is too late, and officers have brought the situation under control by tasering the individual or taking action that results in the persons death. MCITs bring skills not currently available to rank and file officers.

The COAST system, used in Halton, Hamilton and the Niagara Peninsula (involving a team of a plain clothes officer and a mental health nurse), is often the first responder, and has been successful. Theres no reason why the MCITs cant be first responders or co-responders when it seems the person is in mental crisis.

b) MCITs should operate in all divisions. At the present time, MCITs operate in about two thirds of the divisions. The other third should not be denied this important service and the chief should work hard with health officials and others to quickly extent this service throughout the city. The chief claims it is the reluctance of hospitals to commit staff resources to MCITs that limits their expansion. It may be necessary to engage the Ministry of Health in discussion to ensure that resources are made available. Further, if the hiring model we suggest above were followed, the police service itself could fully staff MCITs.

c) MCITs should operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. At the present time MCITs operate from 1  11 pm, five days a week. Once the service is available through the city, the chief should work to have this service available during more of the 24 hour cycle.

d) MCITs should be able to cross division boundaries when appropriate. At the present time, MCITs operate only within a division, never crossing boundaries. This is not a good use of resources.

We have asked the Board to implement these ideas, but as already noted, it has refused to take an independent position and the ideas have not been implemented.

7. The role of the TPS Emergency Task Force.

No comment.

8. Best practices

As noted above, the COAST model used in other parts of Ontario often is a first responder. Toronto can learn from these police forces.

Most police officers in Britain and other parts of the United Kingdom have access to neither guns nor Tasers as they go about their daily work. Obviously, they have found ways of dealing with those in mental crisis that does not involve the violence caused by those weapons. We understand that there is a different context in the UK  far fewer guns, for instance  but encounters with those in mental crisis in Toronto rarely feature individuals threatening officers with guns. We believe we can learn from the policies and procedures of these police forces.

Mental health and child protection workers in Toronto often deal with those in mental crisis, and they do so without resorting to anything more than their wits and intelligence. Indeed, some social workers say they have gone into situations where police officers refused, and have come up with good solutions for everyone. We think this happens because they have been trained to listen closely and respond with empathy rather than demanding compliance. Leaders in social work agencies can help change police practises.

9. Available studies, data and research

We recently were given the results of an academic literature review undertaken by the Ministry of Correctional Services and Community Safety on the issue of police dealing with those in mental crisis. We were surprised at the limited number of academic studies uncovered by the Ministry on this topic, and by the fact there seemed so few studies of interactions that involved de-escalation.

This may be a subject which academics have given little notice to, but that should not stop pilot projects from occurring which give those in mental crisis more protection from the police. There is no shame in Toronto police being on the leading edge when it comes to working with those in mental crisis.

10. Such other related matters

We believe that some timely follow-up procedure is need to ensure there are lessons learned from every misadventure that police have with those in mental crisis.

Currently deaths involving police are investigated by the Special Investigations Unit, but the investigation is only for one purpose. As the SIU web site states, the SIU decides whether or not the evidence leads to the reasonable belief that a criminal offence has been committed.

Finding criminal intent by police is something that almost never happens. It doesnt help that many SIU investigators are former police officers with that strong police culture, but it is fair to say that few officers were doing something that they knew to be wrong, which is one way of defining a crime. It means that family members are often very disappointed by the SIU report.

The SIU does not make recommendations about how such deaths might be prevented in the future. That seems to be the key issue that needs to be addressed  not whether a crime was committed by police, but whether police acted reasonably and whether there was something which could have been done to prevent the harm caused.

Instead, the Ministry of Community Safety convenes a coroners jury to investigate each death. It usually takes two or three years before the coroners hearing takes place  which is much too long. As well, it proceeds in an adversarial situation like a criminal trial although no one is on trial, which makes it very expensive. Then a jury of individuals who has no experience in such matters makes some recommendations. Every jury is looking at this issue for the very first time, and these juries often come to the same conclusions as other juries, not recognizing that previous recommendations have not worked. (Juries have been recommending more police training for years, but the killings go on.)

We need a new approach. Weve asked the Ministry to establish a Death Review Committee involving police forces and private security firms. Currently the province has six death review committees. The committees are multi-disciplinary with a number of different professional interests, and each investigates and reviews deaths within its mandate with a view to making recommendations aimed at preventing deaths in similar circumstances. (One committee looks at the deaths of children under five years of age, for instance.) The committees do not look to assign blame, but look to making changes to reduce deaths in the future.

A comparable committee to investigate and review the deaths involving police and private security firms in the province  about thirty individuals die every year in incidents involving police  would be very valuable. Alternatively, asking the SIU to do this work would also be helpful.

The Ministry has not agreed to make this change, saying that the coroners juries do this work well  and we disagree. If the coroners jury approach worked well, the number of deaths by police would go down. We think that what is needed so we can learn from each death by police, is a Public Safety Death Review Committee made up of people with a wide range of disciplines and interests.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide our recommendations. We are pleased to meet with you or your staff if that would be of assistance to you. We have no concerns with our brief being in the public realm.

Yours very truly,

John Sewell for
Toronto Police Accountability Coalition.