Relying on training and trusting in each other, three Toronto Police officers managed to arrest a knife-wielding man in crisis safely as passersby recorded the interaction on a busy street.
At around 3 p.m. on July 4, Consts. Kyle Sage and Justin Keehn were on patrol when they got the call for a person with a 10-inch knife. A passerby called 9-1-1 after a man was alleged to have threatened to harm a dog, in the vicinity of St. Clair Ave. W. and Lansdowne Ave.
“When we got there, we observed a male matching the description,” said Sage, who joined the Service nearly 18 months ago. “When we asked to see his hands, he pulled out a large kitchen-style knife. By this time, civilians had converged on the scene and we requested they clear out.”
The two officers tried to engage the man to drop the knife using verbal communication, maintaining a safe distance and directing the focus onto them, not on bystanders as they moved onto the middle of streetcar tracks on St. Clair Ave. W.
Trying to engage the man in conversation proved futile for the officers.
“He was agitated and that de-escalation tactic didn’t work,” said Sage. “He was making swiping motions with the knife in his hand while moving a bit toward us. All the while, we were still talking to him and requesting he drop the knife.”
With the man slowly advancing towards the officers, Keene drew his firearm and Sage his less lethal conducted energy weapons as they continued to negotiate with the man to drop his knife as he advanced on them.
“The de-escalation techniques were clearly not working and he wasn’t following our demands,” Sage pointed out.
Constable Vladim Iancu was next onto the scene coming from the north end of 13 Division to backup his fellow officers.
“I had a very clear picture of what was going on because of the communication among us,” he said, noting officers were keeping everyone apprised on the radio. “I knew exactly what we were dealing with and what we had to do.”
Seeing a firearm and CEW drawn, Iancu inserted himself between Keane and Sage – engaging the man to drop the knife.
“I was concentrating first and foremost on avoiding by any means necessary of him being badly hurt,” Iancu said. “We wanted to avoid having to use a firearm. I wanted to distract him and bring his attention to me as the other officers were ready to act in case he was becoming more dangerous.”
The man made several motions to put the knife down but kept bringing it back up as officers maintained a safe distance in order to avoid a physical confrontation or having to use a firearm.
As more officers arrived, the man leaned forward against a police scout vehicle, Iancu decided to use his pepper spray.
“I thought the most appropriate course of action was to use a lesser use of force the aerosol weapon. It proved to be effective because it distracted the male,” he said.
The man reached for his face and then began to swing the knife wildly again and Sage used the opportunity to use his CEW.
“At that point, I deployed my CEW with one cycle and he dropped the knife as he fell down. We were then able to arrest him without incident.”
Click to Watch the Video of the arrest that a member of the public posted to Facebook.
A 14-year veteran, Iancu said he had the trust in both Keane and Sage to follow their training and work as a team.
“We have been on the same platoon for a long time and know how my peers would react. Of course, I trust my peers and there is a high level of camaraderie – we’re brothers and sisters and I trust them with my life.
He said every officer is prepared to approach a mental health crisis with a mind to de-escalation and zero harm.
“We undergo training every year on firearms, use of force and theoretical training. More and more emphasis is put on dealing with people in crisis every year,” Iancu said. “I’m so impressed with next generation of police officers that we have. They are so reliable and serious about their job.”
Iancu said he and his fellow officers respond to incidents of mental health crisis every day where people are threatening harm to themselves or others.
“It’s one of the most distressing calls because people are determined and unpredictable. Luckily most of time, these situations end in a mental health apprehension and not in people being harmed or harming themselves.”
He said having every officer given training focused on de-escalation and less lethal force options on their belts helps officers create the time and space they need to keep everyone safe.
D/Sgt. Don Theriault heaped praise on the officers for the calm manner in they approached a dangerous situation.
“This is another example and embodiment of the training our officers receive and it’s a testament to how we want to have situations like this resolved,” he said.
Iancu said he hopes the man is able to get help he needs.
“When out of crisis and sober, people realize the gravity of situation and what could have happened. I hope this incident will serve him well and get the help that he needs to avoid a situation like this in the future.”