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'Zero harm, zero deaths:' Mayor on Toronto police training

Sammy Yatim, 18, was shot and killed by Toronto police on July 27, 2013. Source: Facebook

The goal for Toronto police is simple:  Zero harm, zero deaths.

That was the message from Mayor John Tory on Wednesday, as he spoke about new training for officers in the wake of Sammy Yatim’s death and the Iacobucci report.

“Zero harm, zero deaths is the goal we’ve all agreed to rising out of the Iacobucci report. The report is at the root of all of this,” Tory told reporters at Toronto Police College.

“There’s been a lot of discussion about the training happening. Forty-four recruits are experiencing this training right now. It’s happening.”

The Iacobucci report, released in the summer of 2014, focuses on police interactions with the public. It recommended more Tasers, body cameras and 24-hour mental health teams. The ‘Police Encounters With People in Crisis’ was prompted by Yatim’s death the year before and was compiled by former Supreme Court of Canada justice Frank Iacobucci. He met with over 100 individuals and reviewed more than 1,200 documents.

The report also recommends expanding the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT), an initiative launched in the city in 2000 with St. Michael’s Hospital. MCIT dispatches a mental health nurse to attend calls involving people with mental health issues alongside police officers.

“The single thing [the training] tries to emphasize and help the officers to deal with is, the most important tool they have, the most important thing they can use … is their brain,” Tory said.

One of the goals of the training is to “dissolve the uniform,” Tory said, so that a person in distress would not see a person of authority, but instead someone they saw as being on their side and wanting to help them.

A police spokesperson told CityNews that 802,158 total calls were made to police in 2014. On average, a spokesman said, police receive 23,000 calls a year for people in distress, or with mental health issues. That means 2.86 per cent of yearly calls to police are for people in distress or with mental health issues, on average.

“The vast majority, we don’t hear anything about,” Tory said, and last year, “8,000 of those calls resulted in apprehensions in some of those people.”

Training amounts to an extra day for those already in the service and another week for recruits. The training documents themselves have not been made public. Tory did not say why. He was also asked if the mobile crisis unit needed independent, public oversight.

Tory said he wasn’t sure if that was necessary, but transparency is key so the public can see what, if any, changes have been made, and how big those changes were.

Police need “effective training, more of it, and to make sure it’s the best it can be,” Tory said.

Click here to read the entire “Police Encounters With People in Crisis” report.