Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Should police be given mandatory training to deal with mentally disordered individuals

On August 13th 2007, Constable Lee Chipperfield, a member of the Vancouver police department, killed Paul Glenn Boyd, a 39-year old animator. The police were responding to a call regarding an assault in progress. Boyd had assaulted an officer with a bicycle chain and lock and despite warnings to drop his weapon and get on the ground, Boyd advanced toward the other officers including Chipperfield. Chipperfield open fired on Boyd, shooting him nine times, the final one being a fatal shot to the head. Two years after Boyd’s death, Chipperfield was cleared of any wrongdoing.

Boyd suffered from mental illness. Last month, experts at the coroner’s inquest into the shooting of Boyd suggested that it was possible he was psychotic. His psychiatrist, Dr. Margaret Duke, testified that she had seen him 4 days before his death and said he had been suffering from bi-polar disorder and post-manic depression. He was functioning, but not properly administering his medication and as a result was a concern to Duke.

The inquest into the shooting of Boyd made 9 recommendations aimed at ensuring this type of incident would not occur again. One recommendation centered on the types of weapons police use in such situations. The jury recommended that all police officers be equipped with non-lethal weapons such as beanbag guns, or tasers. This is salient given the fact that Chipperfield said he felt that Boyd was at risk to attack him or someone else and that the police had “run out of options”.

The major recommendation, which came from the inquest however, was that the police department should have additional mandatory training to learn how to deal with mentally disordered individuals. Such training could help some officers recognize symptoms of mental illness and become equipped with the necessary tools to deal with those situations – not simply resort to using their guns. The question then is – would this actually have an effect in cases like this one? Will an officer that chooses to shoot a man 9 times without attempting other measures actually pause to put their training into effect? It might be just as important to look at police culture, how officers are trained at a more basic level, and how their training might be used in the future to mitigate that initial instinct to reach for lethal weapons.

What do you think? Should resources be allocated to fund special training for police officers to learn how to deal with mentally disordered individuals? Will this start a ripple effect for other such groups who feel that police forces should have better capabilities in dealing with their issues?

Posted by Melissa Crowley (Windsor Law I)

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