Montreal police chief says more crisis training coming for officers this fall

In the wake of another police shooting, Philippe Pichet answers questions about the crisis training and use-of-force tools the members of his force have.

In wake of police shooting Tuesday, Philippe Pichet says officers have a range of de-escalation tools

In the wake of the fatal shooting of a black man in Montreal's Gay Village, police Chief Philippe Pichet says the members of his force are trained to de-escalate situations verbally before using force. (Ryan Remiorz/Canadian Press)

In the wake of another police shooting, Montreal police Chief Philippe Pichet says there are a number of tools officers have to de-escalate tense situations, but they still aren't all trained on how to intervene in mental health crisis situations. 

The man killed by police Tuesday has been identified as 58-year-old Pierre Coriolan. The fact that he was black raised immediate concern among activists, who fear racial profiling could have to do with how officers respond when people of colour are in distress.

Following the shooting of Alain Magloire in 2014, police were heavily criticized for their handling of mental health crises and a coroner's inquest made a series of recommendations, including giving officers access to more taser guns. 

Yesterday, police released its annual report for 2016, which said more stun guns were added to downtown stations and the airport in response to the inquest. 

The force has also been criticized for its lack of diversity. Only seven per cent of its officers were people of colour in 2015 and that number barely grew in 2016, at 7.4 per cent.

Pichet spoke with CBC Montreal's Daybreak Thursday morning to discuss what the force has been doing to prevent officers from using their guns, as well as why its officers aren't more representative of Montreal's population.
The victim of the fatal police shooting Tuesday evening has been identified as 58-year-old Pierre Corolian. (Danny Gosselin/Radio-Canada)

What has the force been doing to try to prevent these deaths from happening?

There are two specific aspects regarding that incident. First of all we do have some specific training regarding mental health and also homeless people issues, to intervene in crisis situations. We also have officers who are patrolling with health department staff, who can help in that type of incident. We also have a team specific for homeless people.

On the other hand, we have more tools to use, such as taser guns or guns [with] plastic bullets. So, we have many tools before going to our nine-millimetre pistols.

How do you make sure the situation doesn't escalate when the critical incident response team isn't available?

We have more than 200 officers specially trained for that. We make sure there's a team on the field every day at every hour. And we have more training coming in September. Of course, the ideal would be to have all our officers trained for that type of situation. 

How long before all officers on the force are trained for crisis situations?

I don't know. That's one of the aspects we're working on. We'll make sure we'll have the most that we can have in the next few years.

Could even using these tools could be making things worse?

No, no. I think that in our use of force, we have to try different tools before going to the firearm. I think having those types of tools is better for us before before taking our firearm. At the beginning, when I first started in the police, we had a flashlight and a firearm. Since then, we have pepper spray and these other solutions I just mentioned. 

Are officers too quick to use them rather than try to talk somebody down first? 

Verbally speaking is in our model of use of force. We always have to talk to the people, try to de-escalate the situation. At the same time, we have to be ready to use other tools if the sit is getting worse. 

The percentage of visible minorities in the force only went from seven to 7.4 per cent in 2016. What have you been doing to make the SPVM more diverse?

We're working with the city's human resources department and we have different programs trying to reach these communities, and year after year, we reserve hiring spots for these people coming from different minorities. We've had programs like this for 20 years. We're trying different things, going to different schools and events. We're trying to inform people what are work is and give them some interest in it.

Do you think a lack of trust in the relationship between police and visible minorities may affect whether they want to join?

I think the relationship is good. It can always be improved. We can make many efforts. At the same time, it's not just the fact that we're trying to reach them and talk to them about our job, they have to like the job we're doing as well.

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak