Toronto

Police praised for arresting man with knife on TTC bus after 5-hour negotiation

Mental health advocates are praising Toronto police after officers spent hours negotiating with an armed man experiencing a mental health crisis on a TTC bus over the weekend, eventually arresting him without firing their guns.

Police did the right thing by talking with accused for hours, experts say

Police removed a man in mental health crisis safely from a bus after five hours of negotiations on Saturday. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

Mental health advocates are praising Toronto police after officers spent hours negotiating with an armed man experiencing a mental health crisis on a TTC bus over the weekend, eventually arresting him without firing their guns.

Police were called to Steeles Avenue and Tangreen Court,  just west of Yonge Street, on Saturday around noon about a person on a bus armed with a knife.

They were told going into the situation the man was contained on the vehicle alone.

Some of these details sound eerily familiar to the Sammy Yatim case. The 18-year-old was on a Dundas streetcar alone three years ago, wielding a knife, when Constable James Forcillo shot and killed the teen.

When you compare five hours on a bus rather than a bullet to the chest, this outcome should be standard.- Steve Lurie, Canadian Mental Health Association

But Saturday's case ended very differently:

The Emergency Task Force (ETF) and a psychiatrist negotiated with the 21-year-old man for about five hours.

Police confirmed to CBC News they eventually tasered the accused, removed him from the bus safely and took him to a medical facility for treatment. He faces five charges, including two counts of assault with a weapon.

No one was hurt.

"That's the way the system should work," said Steve Lurie, Executive Director of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Toronto branch.

The CMHA is a volunteer organization that supports people with mental illness.

"When you compare five hours on a bus rather than a bullet to the chest, this outcome should be standard."

Lurie gives police credit for recently including training on how officers can calm themselves down, how to use time and applying scenario-based exercises in de-escalation.

Police were called to Steeles Avenue West and Tangreen Court just after 12 p.m. Saturday about reports of a man armed with a knife on a TTC bus headed to Finch subway station. (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

But he's concerned that the training and exercises don't prepare police well enough when it comes to the crises they encounter outside the classroom.

According to the Toronto Police Service Corporate Risk Management annual report last year, police received 1.8 million calls for service, including 23,308 calls involving persons believed to be emotionally disturbed. Of those calls, police apprehended 8,689 people under the Mental Health Act and used force 158 times or 1.8 per cent of the time.

"I can assure you there are crises going on right now in the city today where police are spending four or five hours on the case but it just won't be on a bus and the public knows about it," says Ross McLean, a security consultant and former Toronto police officer.

'Expectation of the job'

McLean says half the calls he responded to when he worked at 51 Division were for people in a mental health crisis.

He says those encounters often take many hours especially if ETF is involved:

"The ETF are trained negotiators and part of what they do as time goes on, they wear down. The police get stronger and that's also a tactic," McLean said.

"So they're prepared to go for the long haul, whereas the person having a crisis may not be; they get weaker, you're better able to gain acceptance from them, you're better able to get them to do things when you ask them to do things because they're getting tired themselves."

Jennifer Chambers, the Executive Director of the Empowerment Council, an organization that represents people who've received mental health or addiction services, would like the average police officer to have access to shields.

"I think this could allow them more time to de-escalate also," said Chambers in an email to CBC News.

She says her group will also be proposing a course for police taught by people who've been in crisis.

"The more we can see each other's humanity, the better the chance to connect and calm the situation."

A police spokesperson said these encounters are so common that the public was only told about Saturday's call because police had to explain why the road was closed for so long.

"Just like these officers here with this case, there will be no gold star at the end of the day. It's an expectation of the job," McLean said.

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