Constables Kamil Kluczewski and Brian Kellar were nearing the end of their shift in 43 Division when they got a radio call for a woman threatening suicide.
The woman called police, telling a Communications Operator she was going to cut her veins. Kluczewski and Kellar headed towards her apartment building and rushed upstairs.
As the two constables and a housing officer approached the apartment door, they could hear wailing and crying inside.
The housing officer opened the door and Kluczewski stepped in first. A narrow hallway led into a dark room. The only light inside the apartment was coming from the kitchen on the left of the hallway.
Kluczewski called out the woman’s name, but he could not see anything in the darkness. Then he saw her walk from inside the apartment towards the officers and, as she walked through the beam of light coming from the kitchen, Kluczewski saw a knife in her hand.
“She looked about 50 years old, small, and had a knife in her left hand,” says Kluczewski. “She looked panicked and was crying, her eyes weren’t focusing but were moving all over the place,” he recalls.
She looked panicked and was crying, her eyes weren’t focusing but were moving all over the place
Immediately the officer tried to calm her down. “I started saying ‘It’s okay, we aren’t going to hurt you, we are here to help,’” says Kluczewski.
Suddenly the woman stopped walking towards the officer, turned around and headed back into the darkened room. The officers watched as she approached a bed and went to the other side of the bed. “She then switched the knife from her left hand to her right hand and started coming around the bed towards us again,” says Kluczewski.
At that moment, the constable says he thought she was going to lunge at them, so he instinctively pushed his partner away because he wasn’t sure if Kellar could see the knife.
At the same time, the constable tried to reassure the woman. “I said ‘Don’t worry, we are here to help you,’” says Kluczewski. The woman stopped approaching the officer and sat on the bed and told the officers her brother had died and she couldn’t take it anymore. She then took the knife and started pressing it into her forearm.
“As she starts pushing the knife, I can see her skin start to give out so I made a decision and I rushed her, I grabbed her by the wrist, I locked her wrist and pulled her knife hand over her head,” says Kluczewski, who was able to hold the woman down but unable to get the knife out of her hand. At that moment, Kellar rushed in and got the knife out of the woman’s hand. The officers were able to cuff the woman and apprehend her under the Mental Health Act.
The challenge with emotionally disturbed people is often the challenge to communicate
Staff Sergeant David Gillis, an Armament Officer at the Toronto Police College, said Kluczewski used sound judgement in a potentially deadly situation.
“From a use-of-force perspective, the officer used sound judgement and tactics in disarming the subject. In every situation, the officer has to assess what is occurring, quickly formulate a plan and act accordingly,” said the Staff Sergeant.
He added that it is sometimes tough to get through to a person who is non-communicative.
“The challenge with emotionally disturbed people is often the challenge to communicate; there is great emphasis in training on effective communication as a way to de-escalate the situation to achieve the safest possible outcome.”
Kluczewski said that, over the years, having dealt with emotionally disturbed people, he has learned to use their name when speaking to them as a way to calm them down. He also says that it gives the officers some time to think, because using someone’s name distracts them from whatever they are focusing on.
“When you speak to people using their name, they hold back what they’re doing because it catches their attention and it refocuses them. Especially when people are irate… just saying her name can give us a few seconds.”
Officers have to make decision in a split second, and Kluczewski assessed the situation and made a call to save the woman’s life as well as keeping him and his partner safe.
“The officer’s decision-making was critical in the successful resolution,” says Gillis.