Police must focus on de-escalation when dealing with people with mental illness: Editorial

August 8, 2017
Article Source
Toronto Star

From a Toronto Star editorial: Last week the jury at a coroner's inquest into the police shooting death of Michael MacIsaac issued thoughtful, important recommendations that should be implemented by all police forces to de-escalate confrontations with people experiencing a mental health crisis.

As sound, sensible and potentially life-saving as they are, though, none of the proposals are new. And that raises the troubling question of why police forces are failing to implement recommendations from other coroner's juries, the Ontario Ombudsman and even a former Supreme Court justice.

As Michael MacIsaac's mother, Yvonne MacIsaac, sadly noted: "I'm sure there have been lots of good recommendations from the inquests that have been had. My son would be alive if even a few of them had been followed."

By now the details of how Michael MacIsaac was shot to death by a Durham Regional Police officer are well known. On Dec. 2, 2013, he had been running through the streets stark naked, banging on car windows.

But instead of trying to calm the obviously distressed man, as has been recommended by so many coroners' juries, Constable Brian Taylor shot him twice only 12 seconds after arriving at the scene.

The first time an officer actually tried to soothe MacIsaac was after he had been shot. That's when Constable Jeffrey Williams told him: "I'm trying to help you; we have help on the way."

Disturbingly, the incident followed the shooting deaths by Toronto police of three mentally ill people between 2010 and 2012. A coroner's inquest into those deaths that reported in February, 2014, advised that when officers are approaching someone who is clearly in a mental health crisis they should drop their commanding voice and instead speak softly, offer help and strive to express understanding.

Most notably it happened after the highly criticized shooting in July, 2013, of Sammy Yatim. Yatim was shot after ignoring police commands to drop a small knife, less than 50 seconds after police arrived on the scene, though he was alone on a streetcar and could easily have been talked to.

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