Yesterday I saw a schizophrenic man shot by a police issued firearm. I was in the same room standing in the dining area. It was a one room apartment with two smaller rooms to the side. I wasn’t sure what was going on. As far as I could tell the man was talking to himself with the door slightly ajar. I could see him moving about and I heard words clearly but not completely or with the advantage of knowing their concept.
The man’s mother was at the door speaking to the police. The man opened the door to his bedroom and asked his mom about lunch. He said something about being hungry and asked for the time of day then went back into his room. My next memory is of him standing in his bedroom doorway and his mom telling him they had visitors as the officers stepped into the room.
I noticed his mother walk to the side of the upholstered chair. The next thing I saw was the man pulling a knife into the air and with arm raised he came at his mother. His last words were something about wanting to eat. I heard the shot echo quickly into the room. I felt bad for the man’s mom. She only wanted to help her son. She was the one who called the police.
What would you do? I’m not sure what I would have done differently. I am told most police in England do not carry guns. How would it have turned out if there was no gun at the scene? Maybe it wouldn’t have been a lethal encounter. Maybe stitches would have been the worst of it. Maybe only the man with the knife survives and knocks on your front door.
I am still in shock but I thought things in the apartment would have ended differently the way the same officers handled someone similar who was beating a rather nice full size black SUV. The officers were able to talk to that man. They were able to determine from him that his delusion was with a vehicle and not a human. After some cautious and courteous interaction on the part of the police the man was safely convinced to put the aluminum bat down.
I too co-operated with the officers when I was directed to leave the parking area. The aluminum bat landed on the SUV during some of this interaction but the officers were trained in the safety of space and appropriate action in the event its dimensions shift toward danger. It seemed a little fun seeing a guy beating a vehicle with a baseball bat but when the officers arrived at the scene I saw it as a different scenario.
Police are called to protect those directly involved in the interaction, the public and themselves. In this circumstance we could add the protection of property. I don’t know about most people but when the poop hits the fan I have a hard enough time figuring out what is appropriate for the preservation of self. When an officer reacts in circumstances we can view in reverse and memorize we need to keep in mind that we are sitting in a chair without the officer’s training, adrenaline level, or the information they may have to react to in seconds.
It is a thin blue line that volunteers to walk into any situation and possibly defend against danger. We watch the video of some questionable interaction but what may be obvious to us may be otherwise in real life. Watching it on a screen we are also void of a need to protect the lives of those involved, bystanders, fellow officers or self in a fluid situation. I’m not saying every death is without liability all I’m saying is to give pause to possibilities most of us can be thankful to avoid.
I thought about what I saw the whole way home from the Ontario Provincial Police General Headquarters in Orillia, Ontario. The OPP used to handcuff me and put me in the backseat of their cars but now I get a comfortable chair and a sandwich better than I can make. I’m locked in hallways within a locked building but it seems like progress. I am a member of the Ontario Provincial Police Community Mental Health Advisory Committee.
The gentleman I saw get shot was an Ontario Provincial Police instructor. He seemed fine afterwards and I shook his hand. He could act half as crazy as I am. The two uniformed officers in the scenarios were female officers. If you encounter a female officer outside of a scenario please know they are every bit of police that make up the rest.
I have met more police officers than most people. Even when the circumstances were unpleasant there was not one among them that I imagined coming to work hoping to shoot a person. When officers have the luxury they too hope every situation ends safely.
If you want to judge police I suggest you take a look at the Ontario Provincial Police Mental Health Strategy. This organization has our backs and they are proactively and progressively improving mental health outcomes for all.