“Drop your weapon!” yells reporter Austin Delaney as he fires two shots at a man lunging at him with a knife.
The CTV Toronto reporter was taking part in a dynamic scenario exercise at the Toronto Police College as part of a one-day crash course that condenses use-of-force training all officers go through annually.
From de-escalation tactics such as engaging an emotionally disturbed person in conversation, to understanding when to deploy less-lethal options, the media was shown the different ways police are trained to resolve potentially deadly situations.
“Obviously, I don’t have the training going into it, but it certainly gives you an idea of what officers face and how quickly it changes and that’s what I thought was the most interesting part was, how quickly it changes and how scared I got,” said Delaney, of the scenario he was confronted with during training.
The training started off by asking the reporters to act as negotiators, trying to de-escalate a situation where a man (played by a police officer) is barricaded in a home after breaking bail conditions to stay away from his girlfriend. Armed with a weapon, along with a bottle of OxyContin and alcohol on him, the four participants tried to use the de-escalation and engagement strategy, taught to them a few minutes before, to get a handle on the situation.
The participants were taught to use their mind’s eye and active listening as tools to help the man calm down. The used a tool police use in training called the Behavioural Influence Stairway, which helps a negotiator to slowly build a relationship through active listening. The training teaches negotiators to start from empathy, then create rapport where they might be able to influence them into a peaceful resolution.
“What I especially enjoyed about the training was learning about… the different techniques they are being taught, how frontline officers are being taught to de-escalate situations,” said CityTV’s Cynthia Mulligan.
The participants were then taken to the college’s gun range and shown the new use-of-force options introduced at TPS including the C8 rifle and the less-lethal sock round.
Chief Mark Saunders demonstrated how the sock round worked, which can be used from a distance of 15 to 60 feet to disarm someone.
“I want frontline officers to have another layer of less-lethal force options with them so they have the ability to respond with the intent of less-than-lethal. So, if someone has a machete or someone has a hammer… anything that can be used as a weapon, they now have this ability to use something that gives them distance,” said the Chief, of having the ability to create distance between an officer and someone threatening with a weapon that gives police more time to assess a situation.
The sock round, fired from a shotgun with bright-orange markings so there is no confusion that it is a less-lethal weapon, is aimed at the centre mass of a person to inflict pain but not penetrate the skin.
“Bringing in members of the media opens the eyes of the public so they can appreciate what the experience of officers is,” explained Training Constable Michael Stavrakis.
With some knowledge of the training, and a few de-escalations tools under their belts, the reporters were then taken into an indoor training room and put into life-like, high-intensity calls that officers receive.
In the first situation, participants encounter a man who has punched a stranger in the face and is waiting in an alley, extremely agitated and angry, with a knife in his hand. While each reporter reacted differently to this situation, three out of the five ended up firing their guns, which had blanks in them, when the man got close to them.
“It was exhilarating, terrifying and really eye-opening experience. That expression of ‘don’t judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes’… just thought every reporter should do this, you just learn a lot more about what the officers go through,” said CBC News’ John Lancaster.
In the second scenario, reporters entered a domestic call where a man was stabbing a woman. They had to try to save the woman and disarm the man at the same time. Teamed up in pairs, each time one team reporter shot the man.
“I was sorry I couldn’t save the woman,” said Global’s Mark Carcasole in the de-briefing, an important point, since officers are trained to save lives, protect themselves and protect the suspect.
In the last scenario, after two volatile ones, the reporters responded to a call about suspicious activity. When the complainant pointed out the man he believed was breaking into homes in the area, the two-person teams of reporters all tried to speak to the man, who was being rude, but not breaking the law.
This, said Stavrakis, is another way officers are trained,. They have to keep in mind the Charter of Rights, not obstruct the man’s path from walking away or try to stop him in any way. That’s something police have to think about while on patrol as well as remain vigilant of their surroundings.
“It (starts to) make you suspicious of people right away. It is interesting, the guy says he is just walking around, and, yeah, he is just walking around and he is being rude to me but what do I do, I don’t know what to do,” said Delaney, of the third scenario.
Staff Sergeant Mandeep Mann said that presenting police training allows the public to gain some police literacy.
“So ,when members of the public are seeing officers engaged in whatever type of investigation, whether a minor traffic issue or something in developing community relations or something even much more involved that is a lot more violent, they can get a better appreciation on exactly what is involved,” he said.