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Posted: June 28, 2020

More training would curb police violence, making society safer

“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

So, what’s with the police?

I mean the police of Canada and the U.S., who in the past month have been in the headlines almost daily for investigations in which numerous citizens have been brutally beaten, injured, and in close to a dozen cases, been shot dead for such heinous crimes as a “wellness check.”

Consider three recent wellness check deaths involving city police forces in Canada.

Chantel Moore, a 26-year-old aboriginal mother from Tofino shot dead by an Edmundston, NB  city officer responding at 2 a.m. to a wellness check request from Moore’s boyfriend. Police say Moore was wielding a knife. A month earlier 29-year-old Regis Korchinski-Paquet mysteriously falls to her death from the 24th floor balcony of a Toronto high-rise shortly after Toronto city police arrive to take her to hospital because she was in “severe mental stress,” according to her mother.

That’s two requests where calls for police “assistance” in mental health cases result in death. Obviously, these aren’t easy calls to deal with. But just as obviously, it appears many police can’t handle these cases responsibly and the practice should cease immediately.

Then just this week in Kelowna in yet another call for a police “wellness check” UBC nursing student Mona Wang says she was punched, kicked, pulled to her feet by the hair and dragged down the hallway on her stomach and further injured by RCMP Cst. Lacy Browning in the process of being arrested. Wang has filed a seven-count breach of trust civil suit against Browning whose lawyer released a statement saying Browning at all times “was acting in the course and scope of her duties.”

And if this isn’t enough to make you question the police’s actions there’s the Alberta RCMP dashcam video of a Mountie brutally tackling and punching Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Chief Allan Adam whose licence plate had expired while he was parked outside of a casino in Fort McMurray. That story and its video coverage even made the New York Times and caused Prime Minister Trudeau to say he was “deeply alarmed” by the incident.

Jump back to Kelowna and more video coverage shows two RCMP officers holding what appears to be an intoxicated man while a third officer repeatedly punches him in the head. “It was a very tough thing to see,” said Tyson Gillies, who filmed the video. “I feel like three trained, grown men should be able to apprehend a suspect … without using such force.”

As for the US, videos of police violence and systemic racism towards non-white victims and millions protesting it, is virtually standard fare on millions of screens in Trump Land. Ever since Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin jammed his knee into George Floyd’s neck for almost nine minutes pinning him to the pavement “I can’t breathe” has become an incendiary mantra uniting blacks and people of all ethnicities against the tragic state of North American policing.

So, what the hell do we do?  We need to do a lot of things but one thing we’ve got to do for sure is – stop being stupid!

Remember the Edmundston incident. The cop doing the “wellness check” in full regalia – gun, handcuffs, body armour and the like – banging on the woman’s door at 2 a.m. You read that right – two in the morning! The victim was already dealing with mental health issues. What do you think this did to her mental equilibrium in the middle of the night? Obviously, it scared her and she reacted and the rest is history, tragic history.

Some say the police are not at fault because they receive little training for the spiralling number of mental health cases they’re forced to deal with in today’s increasingly chaotic society. So how do we change a dysfunctional system that is hurting, and in several cases, killing the very people it’s trying to help?

Obviously, police “wellness checks” have to be made less toxic. People in distress are not soothed by being confronted at the door by gun-wearing cops. In such cases, a team approach should be used with the police accompanied by a non-armed mental health worker who is trained in defusing crisis situations and makes the initial contact before the police are brought into the picture.

That’s not rocket science. It’s common sense.

In the long term, all cops should be trained in the skills of de-escalating tense situations, winning the trust of people loath to trust anyone and being sensitive to different cultures and ethnicities. “Packing heat” only aggravates the situation. Packing empathy and compassion works far better. Surely, it’s time society in general and those charged with making society safe for everyone “woke” to this fact.

We need cops to deal with crime, not with mental illness.

– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who believes everyone can change, including the police.

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