Toronto police launch mental health, addictions training for officers
A Toronto police logo is seen in an undated file image.
Toronto's police force is vowing to better train its officers to treat people in crisis with compassion in a mental health strategy aimed at implementing the recommendations of a former Supreme Court justice.
The Toronto Police Service launched its Mental Health and Addictions Strategy on Monday, five years after former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci penned a 346-page report on police use of force. The report was ordered after an officer shot and killed Sammy Yatim on an empty streetcar in July 2013.
"The service is committed to incorporating best practices and learning from our past," Chief Mark Saunders said at a news conference. "Although work began on the strategy more than three years ago, our approach will continue to evolve."
The police service has said it implemented nearly all of Iacobucci's recommendations in the year after his report was released in 2014. But community members urged leadership to develop a strategy on mental health to solidify the commitment, spokesman Kevin Masterman said in an email Monday.
The service said officer training will focus on de-escalation techniques, bias-free policing, risk assessment, and mental health and addictions awareness.
It will also teach harm-reduction principles, which aim to mitigate the negative effects of drug use without requiring abstinence.
The strategy also commits to updating training materials with ongoing input from people who have experienced mental health and addiction issues.
It also says police will also "produce an annual analytical assessment of individuals who have been apprehended multiple times under the Mental Health Act" to find ways the force can improve.
"How our police officers respond to mental health and addictions issues is one of the most important priorities for our organization and our city," said Uppala Chandrasekera, acting chair of the Toronto Police Services Board.
The strategy also addresses the mental health of police officers themselves, who Chandrasekera said "are faced with the most difficult, intense and challenging situations on a daily basis."
"It is critical we not only continue to put into place the most relevant programming and initiatives to effectively support workplace mental health, but also that we continue to encourage the cultural shifts necessary to remove stigma and inspire dialogue."
The strategy commits to providing support to members who may face mental health or addiction issues, promising such action "will ultimately improve our service delivery to the community."
"Today is a very good day. It's a hopeful day," Chandrasekera said at the news conference Monday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2019.