Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Are the police receiving adequate training on mental illness

On February 3, 2012, a Toronto police officer shot and killed Michael Eligon, who was believed to be mentally ill. Eligon was admitted to Toronto East General Hospital on January 31, 2012 for a mental assessment and was supposed to be picked up by his foster mother on February 3, 2012. He walked out of the hospital in his hospital gown and walked around the neighbourhood looking confused and disoriented. He also had two pairs of scissors he took from a convenience store nearby. He attempted to enter into a number of homes and a few people called the police. The police arrived and an officer shot at Eligon three times when they finally found him, with one of the shots hitting and killing Eligon. 

This was a complete shock to the neighbourhood and brought an array of questions regarding the police and the adequacy of the training they receive on dealing with people who have a mental illness. Neighbours raised their concerns since these incidents keep occurring, as exemplified by the cases of Charlie McGillivary and Sylvia Klibingaitis that happened last year.

Charles McGillivary was unable to speak due to a childhood accident and communicated through sign language with his mother and used a handful of words only she could understand. He collapsed and died while being arrested by police. They mistakenly took him for another suspect and due to his large frame and the fact that he couldn’t speak, they took him down while arresting him. McGillivary fell into medical distress and was later pronounced dead at the hospital. He was walking with his mother when this occurred and the police wouldn’t listen to her pleas that he was mentally ill and couldn’t speak.

Sylvia Klibingaitis struggled with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and psychotic delusions. She had “peak anxiety” during the weeks prior to her death, and she made a 9-1-1 call for help during a mental crisis. She told the operator that she had a knife and that she was going to commit a crime. According to the S Investigations Unit (SIU), Klibingaitis burst out the front door with a large knife in her right hand when a police officer approached her home. The officer backed away from the house toward the curb. As she followed him toward the curb with knife in hand, he pulled his gun from its holster and repeatedly yelled, “Put the knife down!” She refused and moved closer. The officer fired three times. One bullet hit the garage door and another struck her in the chest, killing her.

The SIU was contacted in both cases, and in both cases the police officers were cleared of any wrongdoing.

It seems that front-line police officers are coming into more contact with people who have mental health issues, but they receive very little mental health support and training. On the Canadian Mental Health Association website, it states that a study by the London Police Department showed that between 1998 and 2001, the number of hours uniformed police spent dealing with people with serious mental illness doubled from 5,000 to 10,000. The same study showed that calls involving people with mental illness took up to $3.7 million of the $43-million London Police Department budget in 2001. The study also showed that the increase in calls was for minor nuisance crimes or no crime at all, and that violent crime among people with serious mental illness was actually decreasing.

In a resolution passed in June 2003, the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police recognized that "the inadequate funding of community mental health services has resulted in vulnerable individuals being at risk of increased contact with the police and increased involvement in the criminal justice system."

Deputy Chief Michael Federico said all Toronto officers are given mental-health training each year when they have two days of use-of-force training. It includes instruction on how to calm situations down verbally and realistic role-play scenarios that mimic responding to someone with a mental illness. Additional training varies by specific job and the year, he said. Police in Halifax and York Region have adopted an intensive 40-hour training program, developed in Memphis, Tennessee. The program takes officers to a mental-health ward and gives them extra verbal techniques.

Mr. Pritchard, a retired co-director of Christian Peacemaker Teams is calling for existing crisis teams, which pair a mental-health professional with an officer, to be available throughout the city, 24 hours a day. As of now, they are available in 10 of 17 policing divisions for 10 hours a day. In Hamilton and other jurisdictions, such teams are available at all hours.

This leaves us asking a lot of questions regarding how equipped the police are in handling situations that involve the mentally ill. An important aspect to think about is the way in which those with mental health issues are viewed by others and if they may automatically be viewed as violent by the police. It begs the question of whether this is an issue of inadequate support and training, or a bias on the part of the police when it comes to handling interactions with those who are mentally ill. Many people believe that the police are treating people with mental illness like criminals and that something needs to be done in order to prevent further needless deaths of mentally ill people at the hands of the police.

It is important to prevent the criminalization of the mentally ill, which seems to be a big issue. A report by the Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division, estimates that the percentage of mentally disordered offenders currently in jails and prisons range from 15 to 40%. This is a serious problem that needs to be genuinely addressed by the police. What solutions do you suggest for improving the ways in which police handle situations concerning people with a mental illness? Is more training required or should police receive more educational awareness regarding mental health matters, or both? As interactions between the police and the mentally ill increases, we will see if our concerns are going to be adequately addressed or not. 

Posted by Ada Vrana (Windsor Law I)

Windsor Police Officers found not guilty of discreditable conduct in investigation of Dr. Abouhassan case

Two Windsor police officers Paul Bridgeman and Patrick Keane have been found not guilty of charges of discreditable conduct in connection to a complaint made by Windsor resident Dr. Tyceer Abouhassan.  Charged under the Police Act, the two Staff Sergeants were accused of trying to broker a deal with Dr. Abouhassan to drop charges laid against the doctor in exchange for him to drop charges laid against a Windsor detective resulting from an altercation.

Though charges were eventually dropped against Dr. Abouhassan, Det. David Van Buskirk is set to go on trial this June following an outside agency charging him with excessive use of force, discreditable conduct, unlawful arrest and deceit for making a false record. 

Adjudicator Morris Elbers, a retired OPP superintendent, oversaw the Police Act hearing and concluded the prosecution’s case against the two Staff Sergeants failed to meet “the standard of clear and convincing evidence to make a finding of guilt”. 

The adjudicator’s 12-page decision stated that the investigation launched by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director relied largely on the testimony of Abouhassan’s lawyer, and on the notes of those involved.  Elbers commented that the lack of any notation by officer Keane on a meeting with Abouhassan’s lawyer was “distressing”, and described officer Bridgeman’s notes as being “dismal”.  Elbers further commented that Abhouhassan’s lawyer admitted to omissions made, and that the lawyer “concluded that all the meetings with the officers were ethical”.

In response to the case, the adjudicator stated that Windsor Police should put in place policies to guarantee this does not happen again, and suggested requiring police of superintendent rank or higher be present during meetings between police and defence lawyers. He stressed the importance of properly recording such meetings, a procedure necessary “to preserve the integrity of the investigation and the transparency of the organization.”

Elbers further suggested Windsor Police take “a hands-off approach when a member of their service is charged criminally”, and stated the department “should be enacting policy to prevent this situation from arising again.”

Acting Windsor police Chief Al Frederick stated that the department “takes all allegations of police misconduct very seriously”, however he expressed that he was pleased with the adjudicator’s decision.    

The allegations against the two Staff Sergeants stems from an altercation between Dr. Abouhassan and Det. Van Buskirk outside the Jackson Park Medical Centre on April 22, 2010.  Abouhassan has filed a $14.2-million claim against the Windsor Police, claiming he was beaten and seriously injured by Van Buskirk as a result of mistaken identity and was then wrongfully charged by Windsor Police in an alleged attempt to protect their own officers.

Posted by Ben Dillon (Windsor Law I) 

New Rules for Web Surveillance under Bill C-51

The Conservative government has introduced a law that will increase police power in monitoring Internet-surfing of Canadians.  Bill C-51, titled “an Act to enact the Investigating and Preventing Electronic Communications Act and to amend the Criminal Code and others Acts”, would require Internet Service providers (ISPs) to install and use equipment allowing the police easier access in monitoring and viewing stored Internet-surfing history of their clients.  Under Bill C-51 the police would have the power to have ISPs collect and preserve Internet surfing data for anyone suspected to be engaged in criminal activity without requiring a warrant.

Bill C-51 will also allow police to more easily activate cellphone tracking mechanisms to track the whereabouts of suspected criminals.  While cellphone tracking of suspected terrorists can currently be performed for up to 60 days, the new law would allow police to track suspected terrorists for up to one year. 

Public Safety Spokesperson Julie Carmichael claims that the new measures are aimed to bring our laws into the 21st century, and will provide police with the tools needed to do their job.   She wrote: “Rather than making things easier for child pornographers and organized criminals, we call on all Canadians to support these balanced measures”.  She stated Bill C-51 follows policies adopted by Sweden, the United States, Australia and Germany, and claimed the Bill “strikes an appropriate balance between the investigative powers used to protect public safety and the necessity to safeguard the privacy of Canadians”.

Many advocates of Internet-privacy - including the privacy Commissioner of Canada, have expressed fear over the Bill’s impact on civil liberties, and have warned the government not to adopt the bill on the grounds that it would lead to serious infringements of civil liberties.  Opponents of the Bill have claimed that the new laws would allow police to obtain personal information on suspects at any time without first obtaining a warrant, while the current law allows police to bypass warrants only in emergency situations.  

In response to the proposed Bill, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP) claimed the law will be difficult to justify, stating they “could not find a sufficient quantity of credible examples” for an older version of the legislation. 

In defence of Bill C-51, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews stated that opponents of the Bill were “putting the rights of the child pornographers and organized crime ahead of the rights of law-abiding citizens”.  In response to Toews’, federal Privacy Commissioner said in a recent letter to Toews that she sees no valid arguments to justify legislating these new surveillance powers over the Internet.   In 2009, then Public Safety Minister Pete Van Loan cited kidnapping where police had to wait 36 hours to obtain a warrant as evidence of the need for Bill C-51.  However in rebuttal, digital policy expert Michael Geist revealed that the incident did not involve any requests to ISPs by police for customer data.  

Posted by Ben Dillon (Windsor Law I)

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Can Racial Profiling be Eradicated in Montreal?

A couple months ago, a Quebec Superior Court ordered a new trial for Joel Debellefeuille, who refused to show identification when stopped by Montreal police. The police report pointed out “reasons” for the stop including the fact that the car belonged to a man by the name of Debellefeuille but the person they had stopped was a black man who did not “correspond at first sight to the owner”. The report also stated that Debellefeuille sounded like a Quebecois family name and not a name of another origin. Finally, the intercepting officer specifically wrote that the primary reason he stopped Debellefeuille was because of his race.

Cases like this one - coupled with the fact that in the first half of 2011 they received 10 complaints against the Montreal police force for racial profiling – caused the Quebec Human Rights Commission to create a report with 93 recommendations to address racial profiling and discrimination in Quebec.

As a result, Mayor GĂ©rald Tremblay and Montreal police chief Marc Parent have outlined a ‘zero tolerance’ policy surrounding racial profiling with the goal of having a better understanding of vulnerable groups in society. The proposal calls for equal access to jobs, housing and social programs as well as monetary aid from the Province to help fight poverty and the resulting issues that arise from it.  The Mayor also stresses the responsibility that the public has in making Montreal a more tolerant community. At a press conference on the new initiative, Mayor Tremblay spoke of Montreal as an example of multiculturalism and stressed that, “Profiling in any shape or form is unacceptable”.

However, there is valid concern that the plan, press conferences and statements, however well intentioned, will end up simply being symbolic and ignoring both the root causes of profiling while also failing to provide consequences for when it occurs. For instance, Fo Niemi, director of the Centre for Research Action on Race Relations commented on the policy stating that, “The real skepticism lies in the position of the Police Brotherhood Union on racial and social profiling, and how it will work with the police management team to equip all officers with better management skills to police a diverse city. To date, the position is not clearly articulated where the plan of action is concerned.”

Niemi says that two recommendations specifically would have an immediate impact. First, that Montreal police revise the tactics being used by their anti-gang unit, which, he says, has been known to target young black men as being suspected of being gang members. The second is that Montreal police alter their policies regarding incivilities, which can include any public conduct deemed to be uncivil such as talking loudly, jaywalking or spitting in the street. The willingness of police to stop and fine people for these actions give them the leeway to go after a broad range of people as they choose.

The effectiveness of the ‘zero tolerance’ policy will depend on willingness at all levels of policing to keep an open mind and implement true changes that are meant to reach the root cause, not to quell negative press. What seems to be lacking are any concrete plans on how these police officers will be trained to think different about minority populations. Do these elected officials truly believe that years of inherent biases can be eradicated simply by stating that they are inappropriate? What would the most important changes be in trying to rid policing of racial bias and profiling? Similarly, what would the appropriate penalties even be for officers that participate in profiling, whether intentional or not?

Posted by Melissa Crowley (Windsor Law II)

Police Dogs and Excessive Force

Christopher Evans is now suing the Vancouver Police Department (VPD) as a result of injuries he sustained from what he alleges to be “excessive use of a police dog”. In June of 2011, Mr. Evans had smashed a window on a bus and subsequently fled the scene on his skateboard.  He was then pursued by a police force and a police-dog. Mr. Evans was “caught” by the dog that bit him so severely that the artery in his leg was nearly hit and Mr. Evans needed almost 100 staples to be closed.

Background – Police Dogs

The Vancouver Police Department’s Dog Squad has been in operation since 1959 and it is the oldest municipal dog squad in Canada. Dogs and dog-handlers go through extensive training that starts when the dog is young in order to train the dog well, and to formulate a “bond” and comfort-level between the dog and dog-handler. There are two circumstances in which a police-dog will be used on a suspect: (1) When the dog-handling police officers believe that a criminal offence has been committed and (2) When the dog-handling police officers feel that the use of force “is needed to apprehend the suspect”.


The main issue involving police dogs is whether using them constitutes excessive force, and if so, when can using a dog be justified? Police dogs are well-trained and can readily be thought of as any other weapon used by a police officer. As stated in the article, Professor Stan Coren of the University of British Columbia explained that “a dog can kill a person in less than 30 seconds”. This was quite possible in the case involving Mr. Evans where: had the dog bit through to the artery in his leg, Mr. Evans could have bled out in moments. 

Police dogs are employed in situations where a suspect needs to be apprehended. In the case of Mr. Evans, it seems fair that a police dog was used as Mr. Evans had the advantage of his skateboard while fleeing.  However, what is of particular concern is what the dog was trained to do after it had apprehended the suspect. Are dogs being trained to employ excessive force on suspects that the dog determines to be a threat? Or, was it merely because Mr. Evans continued to resist that the dog persisted in attacking him? What is noted in the article is that dogs are trained to stop attacking if the suspect goes “slack”. However, is it really that easy to go “slack” when being pursued by a potentially deadly animal?

Of particular concern is the safety of the public at large and the ability to control a police dog, particularly a police dog that goes “rogue”.  Granted, police dogs in force are selectively chosen and trained well. However, anything is possible when there is no control over the dog that may “read” a situation incorrectly and attack anyway. If a deadly attack were to occur, can it simply be concluded that the dog went rogue? Or, was more need to be done when training and controlling the dog? Some may see how it is possible that a dog can be used as a “scapegoat” for police officers who, rather than using force themselves, rely on the dog to do it for them.  An attack by a dog would face less public outcry than an attack by a police officer. Further, very few, if any articles have emerged where a police dog has killed a suspect. Likewise, little negative feedback has surfaced regarding the use of police dogs, even in situations where they attack suspects severely.

On the flip side, the use of police dogs has become a helpful tool to the police. Dogs are used in an array of activities including: finding missing persons; detecting explosives; searching for narcotics, drugs and alcohol; crowd control and several others. Dogs have significantly keener sensory abilities than humans and can conduct searches and chases much faster than humans. In many regards, a dog is an extremely intelligent and useful weapon when trained properly and employed correctly by police. 

Like any weapon or force employed by police, however, there will always be some controversy.  As a result of this case, an inquiry into the Dog Squad has begun by Pivot Legal Society lawyer Douglas King. Mr. King claims that the dogs should only be used when all other arrest tactics have been exhausted. This is understandable given the sheer strength and potential viciousness of the dog. However, in the case of Mr. Evans, it was not necessarily a question of why a dog was used, but rather, how the dog was trained, particularly after it caught a suspect. In the meantime, it will be interesting to see what transpires from this lawsuit and whether training and tactics will be proactively altered in order to better ensure the safety of the public from police dogs. 

Posted by Audrey Wong (Windsor Law I)

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

RCMP Training Postponed Amid Racial Profiling and Abuse Findings

On January 27, the RCMP scrapped a program to send hundreds of police officers to Arizona for drug recognition training after learning that a recent U.S. Department of Justice Report found “reasonable cause to believe” that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office had engaged in a practice of misconduct that violated the U.S. Constitution and Civil Rights Act, 1964. The Report, at page 2, also indicates that the violations are to such an extent that the DOJ is prepared to commence civil proceedings against the Sheriff’s Office if it does not comply with a federal judicial process to reform the detachment’s practices immediately.

The DOJ found cause to believe that violations occurred in the following areas: 1. Discriminatory practices including unlawful stops, detentions and arrests of Latinos; 2. Unlawful retaliation against individuals exercising their First Amendment right to criticize MCSO’s policies or practices, including but not limited to practices relating to its discriminatory treatment of Latinos; and 3. Discriminatory jail practices against Latino inmates with limited English proficiency by punishing them and denying them critical services.  

The Justice Department found a number of long-standing and entrenched systemic deficiencies that caused or contributed to these patterns of unlawful conduct, including:  1. Failure to implement policies guiding deputies on lawful policing practices; 2. Allowing specialized units to engage in unconstitutional practices; 3. Inadequate training and supervision; 4. An ineffective disciplinary, oversight and accountability system; and 5. A lack of sufficient external oversight and accountability.   

In addition to these formal pattern or practice findings, the investigation uncovered additional areas of serious concern, including:  1. Use of excessive force; 2. Police practices that have the effect of significantly compromising MCSO’s ability to adequately protect Latino residents; and 3. Failure to adequately investigate allegations of sexual assaults.  

The Report is drawing concern in Canada because the Maricopa County police detachment has partnered with the RCMP for years, with Maricopa officers instructing in Canada and RCMP officers doing “field certification” at the county’s jail. That field work has included having RCMP officers, from both municipal and provincial forces, practice drug recognition training on individuals arrested for allegedly driving while impaired. Although Deputy Commissioner Doug Lang cancelled the partnership with Maricopa within days of being alerted to the Report by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, noting that it brings “into question” certain police practices in Maricopa County.

But some are speculating that the implications span wider than Maricopa County and may impact criminal investigations and cases that are already before Canadian courts, as the Maricopa Sheriff’s Office is said to be responsible for training upwards of 85 percent of all drug-recognition experts in North America. As a result, B.C. Civil Liberties Association Executive Director David Eby has called on the RCMP to conduct a retroactive review to determine if the training RCMP officers have received over the years is reliable and complies with Canadian societal norms and constitutional standards.

According to the Montreal Gazette, RCMP Inspector Allan Lucier responded by saying that although the drug recognition materials the RCMP uses were developed in the United States, they have been modified to ensure they conform to Canadian laws.

Mericopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio has called the investigation and attempted reforms politically orchestrated and an “invitation to illegals”. Arpaio is also currently under fire for his office’s failure to properly investigate more than 400 sex crimes, which has also prompted calls for his resignation. The Justice Department has given Arpaio 60 days to reach a court enforceable agreement to reform policing practices and systemic deficiencies at the Mericopa detachment.

Posted by Jeremy Tatum (Windsor Law III)