A man in a mental health crisis, who had locked himself in his mother’s apartment, was talked out peacefully by two 51 Division officers.
Constables Christopher Ito and Rui Esteves were speaking to Toronto Community Housing security officers when the security officers received a call from a woman on one of the upper floors of the building.
She had called for assistance because her adult son, who had conditions not to be near his mother, had pushed her outside of her apartment and locked himself in.
The son, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, had been off his medication for almost two weeks. He was also known to TCH security, having once slashed a special constable.
“He had a violent history with police and security…tended to fight with people,” said Ito, who said they volunteered to go up with security.
Outside the apartment the officers found the mother of the man standing in the hallway, trying to speak with her agitated and angry son through the door.
“She was upset, she had a lot of problems with him, and she had tried to help him in the past but he had refused help. He wouldn’t stick to his medication,” explained Esteves, who said they began talking to the man.
The man was pacing inside the apartment and was not happy to hear that police were on scene.
“He hadn’t had good interaction in the past and was scared he was going to be harmed,” said Ito, saying the man’s emotions went from being nice one second to extremely angry the next.
The two officers were looking through the mail slot to make sure that the man wasn’t going to harm himself and keep him close to the door instead of near the balcony.
We made sure that we were telling him the truth the entire time and that, whatever we promised, we would follow up on
“He said he was hearing voices but wouldn’t tell us what the voices were saying. If people don’t tell us, we tend to think of the worst, so we just wanted to keep an eye on him,” said Ito, who said they began to reassure him and try to calm him down.
The two constables spoke to the man for close to 45 minutes, while waiting for the Emergency Task Force to get to the location. The ETF specializes in cases where people in crisis may be barricaded and escalating.
In those 45 minutes, the two officers were able to build a rapport with the man.
“We made sure that we were telling him the truth the entire time and that, whatever we promised, we would follow up on,” explained Ito.
The man said he did not want to go jail, which was a possibility since he broke his conditions to stay away from his mother. He also said he didn’t want to be tackled and that he was also hungry and would like some food.
Ito and Esteves promised to buy him food, apprehend him instead of arresting him, and that they would cuff him in the front instead of behind his back, which can be uncomfortable.
“Throughout our conversation, we were just finding things that would make him happy, calm him down, something that we could do to help him,” said Ito.
“So there was a lot of assurance that we weren’t going to harm him but take him to CAMH. We asked him which location he liked, and he said Spadina and College,” said Esteves.
“We also told him that we were there to help him and not harm him in any way,” said Ito.
It’s not about just getting the bad guys. We are there to help as well… not just him, but we helped his mother too
The two officers were able to convince the man to put on his shoes and walk out of the apartment willingly.
By that time the ETF had arrived, because Ito and Esteves had built rapport with the man, the ETF let the two officers talk to the man until he exited.
“He came out, calm and compliant,” said Ito.
The two officers fulfilled their promise to buy him food, two Whopper meals from Burger King, and took him to CAMH at College and Spadina.
While they encounter people in crisis often at 51 Division, east of downtown and home to many shelters and clinics, this was the first time they de-escalated a situation through a locked door.
“When you are in the Primary Response Unit, every single day you go to a call with an emotionally disturbed person,” Ito said.
“Normally we can talk to a person face to face. We are more in control of the situation. In this case there were a lot of ‘what ifs’,” explained Ito, saying the officers were not sure what the man could have done to himself or perhaps even walked out with a weapon.
Esteves said it felt good to help someone who perceives the police as a threat as opposed to being there to help.
“It’s not about just getting the bad guys. We are there to help as well… not just him, but we helped his mother too,” said Esteves, who said the mother is often reluctant to call police because she doesn’t want to see anything bad happen to her son.
“Because her son has interacted with police before, she had stopped calling us, so the fact that we dealt with him the way we did, hopefully, gets her onside with us to help her son (in the future),” said Ito.
After speaking to the mother after her son was safely apprehended, Ito said she was very happy with the police. “Ultimately it is very hard to have a child with mental health issues. You want them to take their medication, but he is a grown adult and you can’t be there to mother… it has to be very difficult for her to see her son in such situations,” said Ito.
The two officers said that the building where they assisted the man and her son is one which does not take well to police officers, but this positive interaction could help how police are seen in that community.
“So it is more people we can help,” said Ito.