Chief Bill Blair committed to mobilizing the police and community to ensure recommendations of a report into how police respond to people in crisis are implemented.
“This is not a report that will gather dust,” Chief Blair said, of Police Encounters With People In Crisis, an independent report by former Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci commissioned almost a year ago. “This is a report that will gather momentum.”
“Our goal is the safety of every citizen and we aspire to preserve every life,” Blair said, at a media conference July 24 where he formally received the report. “In every encounter with a person in crisis we are committed to taking every step in attempt to de-escalate the potentially violent encounter and safely resolve such situations
Iacobucci said tactics, equipment and training all factor in when a police officers use deadly force and can be improved.
“I believe the death of any human being in these encounters is a failure, for which blame in many situations cannot be assigned and in these cases it's more likely a failure of a system,” Iacobucci said. “Policies and procedures should be designed and exercised with the zero target in mind but, of course, not at the cost of ignoring the safety of the subject, the police or the public.”
Iaobucci spoke to over 100 people from family members of those who died after an encounter with police, police officers who experienced trauma after a shooting, mental health experts and those suffering from mental health issues.
Iacobucci said he sought to understand what it is like to be the police officer and person in crisis during a highly charged encounter as well as those affected by the death resulting from an encounter including the families of those who died as well as the officers and their families whether the death was justifiable or not.
"When the issues are looked at from these perspectives, the importance of seeking to prevent lethal encounters between police and people in crisis becomes crystal clear,” he says. “If reasonable steps can be taken to prevent even one unecessary death, than those steps must be taken.”
The basic and glaring fact is that the TPS alone cannot provide a complete answer to lethal outcomes involving people in crisis
He said the police have become the frontline mental health workers for many encounters.
“One cannot properly deal with the subject of police encounters with people in crisis and not consider the availability of access to mental health and other services that can play a role in tragic outcomes for people in crisis,” he said. “Police officers because of their 24/7 availability and experience in dealing with conflict and disturbances are inexorably drawn into contact with persons in crisis.”
Iacobucci said there is no comprehensive system of funding and coordination of mental healthcare in the province.
“There will not be great improvements to police encounters with people in crisis without the participation of agencies and institutions of municipal, provincial and federal governments because simply put they are part of the problem and need to be involved in the solution.”
He says that an effective mental health system limits the people who will find themselves in crisis.
“The basic and glaring fact is that the TPS alone cannot provide a complete answer to lethal outcomes involving people in crisis,” he said.
Deputy Chief Mike Federico will be leading an implementation advisory committee made up mental health stakeholder groups including the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.
“Certainly we're very mindful of managing the costs of policing generally, and that's work we do with our Board and with our city, but I think it's also important to recognize there are certain investments that can save lives,” Blair said. “I'm not advocating for us to pile a bunch of money into new tools and new training but that's one of the reasons we're prepared to move forward but in consultation with all of our partners to find the most cost effective and efficient way to get things done.”
“I'm prepared to move forward on the implementation of these recommendations quickly and expeditiously as possible, with a strong sense of urgency,” Blair said.
Chief Blair said the recommendations will improve the support for officers.
"As our people go out and do the very difficult and challenging things that we ask them to do and we require of them and they have answered that call – we need to support them in doing that,” Blair said. “In supporting them to do that I think we have to provide them with the best training, the best direction and the best tools to support that work. And an important part of that commitment is supporting their psychological well-being as well.”
Iacobucci also reccomended pilot projects on the use of body-worn cameras and the expanded use of Conduced Energy Weapons, commonally known as Tasers.
He also recommended the expansion of Mobile Crisis Intervention Teams and the adoption of a crisis intervention model where specially trained officers act as first responders.