CANADA – Ontario Police can use gun if threatened by knife, even if Taser available, training officer says (2014-04-24)

Published on April 24 2014 by admin

[[SUMMARY / COMMENTS: If threatened with a knife, Ontario police can use a gun even if they also have tasers available, the coroner’s inquest on the death of Matthew Roke, 33, heard Wednesday. Mr Roke suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. He was shot before a supervising officer arrived on scene with a taser. A police-officer points out: “[Tasers] and pepper spray are not a substitute [for a firearm], because they may not work, and if they don’t work, there’s a continued jeopardy”.]]

Ottawa Citizen, by Carys Mills

BROCKVILLE — A police officer faced with a knife-wielding person threatening someone’s life would be permitted to use a gun even if a Taser was available, a coroner’s inquest heard Wednesday.

Matthew Roke, 33, died in May 2012 after a police bullet pierced his chest in Maitland, just east of Brockville, after he approached officers with a knife.

Three minutes after paramedics found Roke, who suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, a supervising officer arrived on scene with a conducted energy weapon, often called by the brand name Taser.

Before Roke was shot, an Ontario Provincial Police supervisor with a Taser had been called to help but didn’t arrive until after the shooting. Now, following legislative changes allowing more Ontario police to carry Tasers, the OPP is beginning to train each of its front line officers to carry the weapons.

But four OPP employees testified Wednesday, the second day of the Roke inquest, that there’s still a need for firearms when someone is imminently threatening the life of another — whether an officer or member of the public — no matter the person’s mental state.

“CEWs and pepper spray are not a substitute, because they may not work, and if they don’t work, there’s a continued jeopardy,” said Ron Hoffman, an Ontario Police College trainer who specializes in responding to people with mental illnesses.

Paul Bonner, another instructor and edged-weapon expert, told the jury there are many variables in responding to someone with a knife, one of the most important being distance.

He said edged weapons can be particularly dangerous because they don’t need to be sharp or be used by someone strong to do a lot of damage.

Police use a “use-of-force model” to analyze situations and explain their responses. The model illustrates options for different levels of perceived threats — from a person being co-operative to threatening grievous bodily harm — and how officers might respond, from merely being present to using lethal force.

Hoffman, who worked on Ontario’s use-of-force model, said there sometimes is public confusion over how mental-health issues play into the model.

Regardless of illness, he said, officers must respond to the person’s actions, whether through talking, commands, or using a weapon.

“The officer’s doing the best he or she can to eliminate that threat,” he said.

Both officers who fired their weapons in the Roke case were cleared of wrongdoing by the province’s civilian police watchdog, the Special Investigations Unit.

The SIU said Roke was less than eight metres away with a knife and “shouted words to the effect ‘I hate f****** cops, just shoot me!’” and moved toward the officers.

Sgt. Steve Tavares, who gives eastern Ontario officers their annual training, said there have been cases involving edged weapons that have been brought “back under control and no one’s gotten hurt” by using Tasers as part of the response.

But if someone’s life is being threatened imminently, he said, Tasers aren’t ideal because of a possibility of missing the target. To work, he said, both probes from the weapon need to land on the person or very close, so in a dangerous situation missing could quickly put “somebody’s life’s in jeopardy.”

Hoffman also testified that the OPP is about to roll out a new form across the province for when officers come into contact with someone they believe has a mental illness.

It’s meant to bridge police and medical response, and to help officers gather more information about their current response and potential gaps in services.

Some police forces and detachments, including Ottawa and the Leeds-Grenville OPP, already have their own similar forms, Hoffman said.

The difference with these, which he developed and piloted, is that they use the same medical lingo that doctors use. That’s important, he said, because if officers apprehend someone involuntarily under the Mental Health Act and take them to a hospital, they need to explain to a doctor why they believe the person should be admitted for a psychiatric assessment.

Hoffman said it’s a way to start bridging policing and health care to respond to mental health issues.

“It’s not really that complex,” he said. “Let’s start by using the same language.”

http://www.ottawacitizen.com/health/Police+threatened+knife+even+Taser+available+training+officer+says/9768744/story.html

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