Hamilton police looking for best strategies to deal with mentally ill

Hamilton’s police chief said Friday his force is evaluating how it deals with people dealing with mental health crises.

Half of city's police force to Tasers on Sept. 12, police chief announces

Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire announced his force has struck a new standing committee to study how its officers deal with people who are having a mental health crisis. (John Rieti/CBC)

Hamilton’s police chief said Friday his force is evaluating how it deals with people dealing with mental health crises.

Chief Glenn De Caire announced a new standing committee — which includes two prominent mental health experts — will review with most recent information on the topic in hopes of creating a system that will provide the “highest level of service to those in crisis.”

De Caire said the committee will include two working groups, one of which will study several recent reports on the topic, including retired Supreme Court Justice Frank Iacobucci’s comprehensive report called “Police Encounters with People in Crisis” which called for no more police-related deaths.

“Toronto police chief Bill Blair said ‘this report will not gather dust, it will gather momentum’,” De Caire told reporters at police headquarters.

“We are building momentum.”

The second working group will examine the deployment of conductive energy weapons (commonly referred to as Tasers) to Hamilton police officers. De Caire said the force has just received its first shipment of the weapons, and that on Sept. 12 about 50 per cent of the city’s some 800 police officers will be armed with one.

“We’re hoping having the weapon available reduces the risk that was there before,” De Caire said, referring to the use of deadly force.

The chief added some police supervisors already carry conductive energy weapons in Hamilton, but now more front line officers will have them.

“We’ve learned that when that (conductive energy weapon) is required, it’s required immediately,” he said.

De Caire’s announcement comes after the Hamilton police-involved shooting death of Steve Mesic, and the high-profile shooting of Sammy Yatim in Toronto, but also the scores of calls police receive to deal with mental health crises, many of which De Caire said originate in the downtown core.

Lori Triano-Antidormi, a psychologist whose son was killed by a neighbour having a mental health crisis, will be one of the members of the standing committee. Triano-Antidormi has called for fixes to the mental health system.

Terry McGurk, who manages St. Joe’s Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST) will also serve on the committee.

De Caire himself with serve as the committee's co-chair.

The standing committee will eventually present its findings to Hamilton Police, which will in turn present them to the police board. 


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