Needed: A hybrid weapon for police

August 24, 2017   ·   0 Comments

READERS OF TUESDAY’S Globe and Mail may have come across a startling statistic in a column by André Picard.

It was that since 2000, more than 40 “mentally disturbed” people have been shot to death during encounters with police – “and that’s just in Ontario,” wrote Mr. Picard, in the column appropriately headed, “Mentally ill people need to be calmed down, not shot.”

The column went on to note that millions of dollars have been spent, “and vast forests have been razed to produce reports on how to stop this carnage, and the conclusions are always the same: Police have to be better trained, they have to be patient and they have to respond to sick people in crisis with compassion, not bullets.”

Far too seldom have such deaths become the subject of suppposedly mandatory inquests under the Coroners Act. However, there was one last month into the December 2013 death of Michael MacIsaac in Durham Region.

“When police responded to a 911 call about a domestic disturbance in the wee hours of Dec. 2, 2013, they found him naked, screaming and brandishing a table leg. Twelve seconds after arriving on the scene, the responding officer shot Mr. MacIsaac twice in the chest,” Mr. Picard wrote.

The coroner’s jury presented a long list of recommendations on how such deaths might be prevented. They included:

√ xtend police training at the Ontario Police College by one week to focus exclusively on de-escalation training.

√ onsider changing the name of the “use of force” model, which outlines in what situations police officers should use force, to something along the lines of the “conflict resolution model,” with a focus on verbal and non-verbal de-escalation and emphasis on the “respect for the sanctity of life.”

√ ental health training for officers should include the “significant participation” of individuals with lived experiences of mental health and addictions issues.

√ fficers should be trained on using different communication techniques when an individual has not responded to the shouting of commands.

√ ll designated mental health officers should be required to requalify annually.

√ stablish a standing committee on mental health to advise Durham Regional Police on policy, training and practice.

√ dding in-car cameras and body cameras.

The recommendations were largely adopted from those proposed jointly by all parties to the jury.

“Sick, scared people need to be calmed down, not agitated,” Mr. Picard wrote. “Police need to practice de-escalation tactics – talking, waiting people out, offering help.”

He applauded a remark by Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé in a 2016 report, A Matter of Life or Death: “Once an officer’s gun is drawn, it is a short step to a deadly conclusion.”

However, we wonder whether any amount of police training would be as effective as the eqjuipping of all officers with a type of weaponry that we don’t think has been developed in this otherwise modern age of miraculous technology: a hybrid taser/firearm.

Tasers and stun guns have been developed as non-lethal weapons that one producer estimated have saved at least 75,000 lives world-wide. However, not all police officers carry them or even have quick access to them.

We wonder whether it shouldn’t be possible to develop a weapon for police use that would be a taser gun unless it was cocked to become a firearm.

Were such a weapon to be issued to all front-line police officers and its initial use as a taser made mandatory, we suspect that deaths would seldom occur, even when the officer’s attempt to calm down the mentally ill person was unsuccessful.

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