Ontario's ombudsman calls the death of an Ottawa man after a confrontation with police "tragic" and says he will push the provincial government to improve the training police officers receive for de-escalating situations.
Witnesses who saw the interaction on Sunday morning told CBC News they watched one officer use a baton on Abdirahman Abdi's arms, legs, and upper body a few times, before a second officer arrived in a cruiser, jumped into the altercation, and administered a number of heavy blows.
Less than four weeks before Abdi's death on Monday, ombudsman Paul Dubé released a report that criticized the training Ontario officers receive and the province for neglecting to update guidelines that could prevent deaths.
The problem was not that officers don't follow their training, but the training itself, he said.
"Our investigation found that Ontario officers have plenty of training on how to use their guns, but not enough on how to use their mouths," Dubé wrote.
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The current use-of-force model is out of date because it is based on an officer exerting authority, even though people in crisis don't respond well to commands being yelled at them, Dubé explained.
According to the Ottawa Police Service's 2015 annual report, less than one per cent of calls for service received by Ottawa police are resolved with use of force.
Improvements to de-escalation training
The ombudsman's office began investigating provincial guidelines and police practices in 2013, in the days after a Toronto constable shot teenager Sammy Yatim on a streetcar.
The report also went through hundreds of recommendations made by juries at coroners' inquests over the past two decades, many of which called for improvements to de-escalation training.
Dubé said it's good news that the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services agreed the status quo is unacceptable and promised to implement his 22 recommendations.
Those recommendations include looking to England or B.C. to develop a new use-of-force model, expanding and standardizing de-escalation training for new recruits and veterans, and changing police culture to encourage de-escalation skills among coach officers.
"I'm hopeful we'll see some significant changes in this area because they're long overdue," he said, adding that those changes can't come soon enough.
The office of David Orazietti, minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, wrote in an emailed statement that the "nature of policing has fundamentally changed with the increasing frequency of police interaction with vulnerable individuals in our communities," and that the government is "committed" to ensuring de-escalation "is central to the police response to those in crisis."
"The need for modernized police training is precisely why as part of the Strategy for a Safer Ontario, the ministry is reviewing both its basic constable training program at the Ontario Police College and is conducting a use of force review for reporting, training and equipment. The outcomes of a study into police responses to persons with mental illness have also been built into the strategy."
Abdi's death 'tragic'
"While our report does have the potential to save lives, this was a tragic outcome," Dubé said about Abdi's death. "It's upsetting to hear about."
He said his heart goes out to Abdi's family, and to police.
"No police officer begins his or her day thinking that they're going to end up using lethal force or hoping to do so," said Dubé.
"It's traumatic for everyone involved."