Officer praised after taking down Toronto van attack suspect without gunfire

The Toronto police officer who apprehended the suspect in Monday's van attack in a busy area north of downtown has been identified as Const. Ken Lam, and experts are praising him for his handling of the arrest.

Handling of Monday's attack reflects officer's 'level of maturity and calm,' says ex-RCMP superintendent

The non-violent arrest of the Toronto van attack suspect is being praised by many. Video taken by witnesses shows the suspect apparently pulling a gun when confronted by a lone police officer. The officer is seen to get the suspect to stand down, drop what he's holding, and make the arrest without incident. 5:07

The Toronto police officer who apprehended the suspect in Monday's van attack in a busy area north of downtown has been identified as Const. Ken Lam, and experts are praising him for his handling of the arrest.

"Hats off, kudos to the officer. He clearly received very good training," said Phil Gurski, a former CSIS analyst and president and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting. "He followed that training to the nth degree. And he was able to neutralize a guy who had just carried out a heinous attack. 

"Now the guy is alive, he's not dead, which means you can question him and you can hopefully find out why he did what he did."

Video of the arrest shows Lam arriving to confront a man standing next to a white van with front-end damage. The vehicle had just mowed down pedestrians along a stretch of one of Toronto's busiest roads. The death toll reached 10 late Monday, and another 14 people were injured.

Lam, seen here in an undated photo, has been drawing praise for his non-violent arrest of the suspect in Monday's van attack. (Sing Tao Daily)

The video shows the man standing next to the open door on the driver's side of the vehicle, his arm outstretched, pointing a black object at the officer. 

"Come on, get down," the officer shouts after drawing his weapon.

"Kill me," the man says in between making quick-draw motions with his arm.

"No, get down," the officer responds.

"I have a gun in my pocket," the man says.

"I don't care. Get down," the officer responds. "Get down or you'll be shot."

The man begins to approach the officer after a few more verbal exchanges, still pointing the black object at him.

"He kept on taking steps forward, and it is at that point that the officer, I believe, realized that that was not a gun in his hand," said Shahnam Ashgar, who witnessed the scene unfold.

The officer does not fire. He holsters his gun and takes out a baton as he strides toward the suspect, who tosses aside the object in his hand and lies down on the sidewalk, where the officer handcuffs him. 

The whole incident was over in 37 seconds, and police now say there is no evidence the man was armed.

The officer "acted smartly, tactically and courageously," said John Muise, a retired Toronto police detective sergeant.

Police says Alek Minassian, 25, of Richmond Hill, Ont., is the lone suspect in the attack. He was charged Tuesday with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.

Toronto police Const. Ken Lam, far right, confronts the suspect, far left, in Monday's attack near Yonge Street and Sheppard Avenue West on Monday afternoon, in an image made from video recorded by a passerby. (Clark Hua Zhang)

Previous deadly incidents

The incident stands in contrast to footage of other police takedowns in Toronto that haven't ended peacefully.

The Toronto Police Service was widely criticized for its handling of the Sammy Yatim case in 2013 that led to Const. James Forcillo's conviction for attempted murder in the shooting death of the 18-year-old. Forcillo is appealing his sentence of six years in prison.

That and other high-profile police shootings in recent years prompted scrutiny of officers' use of force, and led to formal calls to change police tactics in order to de-escalate standoffs.

A coroner removes a body from the sidewalk after a van mounted the sidewalk and struck a number of pedestrians on Yonge Street. Ten people died and 15 others were injured. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press)

Members of the Toronto Police Services Board passed a motion in February to issue hundreds of more conducted energy weapons (CEWs), or Tasers, to certain on-duty constables. The move is billed as a way to help the police force achieve a goal of zero deaths when it comes to interactions between the public and police.

Part of the approved motion also requires the TPS to conduct a review of other use-of-force options and gather input from the public and affected groups.

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders attributed Lam's actions to "high-calibre training" that officers receive.

De-escalation is increasingly a 'focal point' of police training in Toronto, chief says 1:27

"The officers here are taught to use as little force as possible in any given situation," Saunders said. "The officer did a fantastic job with respect to utilizing his ability of understanding the circumstance and the environment, and having a peaceful resolution at the end of the day."

Garry Clement, a former RCMP superintendent and the CEO of the Clement Advisory Group, said the officer appeared to do a great job of reading the suspect's body language. 

"I think in a lot of circumstances, the individual would have been shot," Clement said. "It shows that overall, the training is really good and most officers react in an appropriate manner."

The man who helped design the TPS's use-of-force training program says circumstances of this case were different from that of Yatim or of Andrew Loku, shot dead by police in 2015 after he did not comply with their orders to drop a hammer.

"The individuals involved are different; the way the individual in this case behaved once the officers gave the instructions.... In this case the person became compliant," former Toronto deputy police chief Mike Federico said on CBC's Metro Morning Tuesday.

Federico said officers are taught to make an objective assessment of the situation "in good faith."

"We're police officers. We don't have the luxury of imposing our own personal judgment on situations," he said.

Officers have to, among other things, weigh whether a threat is imminent or merely potential, consider their own ability to control a situation and take note of what's going on around them, like the presence of bystanders.

"Our training emphasizes the preservation of life even when we're dealing with somebody who has shown a disregard for that."

With files from CBC's The National, As It Happens, Vik Adhopia and Taylor Simmons