Measurable As Murder

Police officers are trained that at 20 to 30 feet a person with a weapon can close in on them and cause serious harm. If officers themselves create this unsafe distance it becomes measurable as murder.
Sammy Yatim was shot eight times while holding a knife on an empty streetcar. When officers first arrived the distance was safe and no one was near Sammy. Sammy stayed on the streetcar so it goes without saying that the dangerous distance was created by officers themselves. Instead of firing eight shots into a community and distressed individual the situation could have been contained and a negotiator or anyone else with people skills could have been called on. Sammy could have been left on the streetcar all night until he fell asleep, but he fell dead.
Here in Ontario police cadets at Ontario Police College are trained for 12 weeks. Is it difficult to imagine that a highly experienced and educated psychiatric nurse could be trained in those same 12 weeks? I would argue that a psychiatric nurse armed with police tactics would be capable of dealing with someone on an abandoned streetcar who has a knife.
There have been instances of nurses in hospitals dealing with patients who are brandishing sharps. Those incidents have never resulted in a patient being shot 8 times and Tasered for good measure. How is it half a dozen brave highly trained officers end up pulling pistols to answer a knife? Cowardice is the first word I come up with but callous stupidity may be closer to the mark.
The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) have recently made mental health issues a priority for Ontarians. After well over 100 years dealing with individuals with mental illness it is as pathetic as it is progressive to finally make mental health training a priority.
Any who are familiar with my modus operandi will not be surprised at my lack of excitement at such news. I am unlikely to send the new commissioner a card expressing my gratitude at hundreds of officers finally knowing half as much as they should. If the Ontario Provincial Police were involved in an excess of tax fraud would they blanket officers with training in accountancy or would they approach government with a call for expertise from outside their ranks?
In 2012, the Ontario Provincial Police responded to over 27,000 occurrences involving 7,192 people identified in the OPP’s Niche Records Management System (RMS) as “mentally disordered.” Training officers in mental health matters is a beginning but it would be more productive to leave medicine to healthcare workers. Nurses don’t surround a bank robbery but cops surround a mental health matter. Why? Why do we not question the police being involved in mental health?
Some will say I am a mouth piece and in particular would likely wet myself under similar circumstances. I soundly proclaim to have been placed in more dangerous situations without backup, bulletproof vest, sidearm or any training. Outside of that I was not paid over $60 000 and it was not my job. Citizens are to be protected not perforated with bullets when the hair on the back of your neck goes up. We are lead to believe police officers have some chokehold on courage but it resides in each of us. Some would scream but as many would do as well if not better.
My first contact with London’s Chief of Police started with me querying about the man with scissors that was shot dead wearing a hospital gown. The chief proclaimed that he had a pair of scissors as though it was a foregone conclusion that an officer would have likely died. I’m not privy to the filtering of who becomes a police officer but I would suggest weeding out the men and women who are afraid of someone trapped on a streetcar with a knife. If you’re afraid of scissors stay home.
The cops and robbers mentality is fun on a playground but in real life not all citizens involved in a police exchange are bad people.
I had a friend in high school who pleaded with a police officer not to charge him as he was interested in becoming a police officer himself. The officer’s response was “you put your pants on one leg at a time don’t you?” Obviously my friend was no different from anyone else. He was not special but the officer painted himself with the same obvious nature of humanity. We all put our pants on one leg at a time. Officers do not need impunity as much as they need integrity. In the real world when someone makes a catastrophic mistake on the job they are fired. Police forces could and should purge themselves of any officer who is derelict in their duties. Police unions end up ensuring the chaff is part of the service. Officers are not infallible unless you ask one. When officers are aggrandized it minimizes the value of the rest of us and perpetuates these sad statistics.
In Ontario we have the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) to investigate serious incidents involving police officers. It is composed of 54 full and part time investigators. Forty-seven are former police officers. I’m jaded but that’s about as logical as making five year olds daycare supervisors. In 97 percent of cases the investigation exonerates the subject officer. This is statistically suspect if not sad. It’s not much more than a catch and release program.
What needs to be done differently? Actually the change needs to be in attitudes. The citizen needs to be regarded as someone’s son, sister or child. Paint people with the similarity of neighbours and you’re less like to Taser, shoot and beat them. An attitude of better than and separate leads to brutality.

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