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Officers learn benefits of using caution

Jun 01 2012

Ryan Debel, who suffers from schizophrenia, has been chased by the police, arrested numerous times and Tasered. The voices in his head told him to run at the cops, smash windows or jump out the window of the psych ward.

Debel, 31, said the compassion and relative restraint used by Lower Island police officers in dealing with him likely saved his life many times.

On Thursday, Debel addressed a group of Saanich police officers, undergoing extensive "critical incident de-escalation" training, which eventually every police officer in B.C. will have to take.

"By the time someone in psychosis is dealing with police, that's pretty much the end of the road, so how you deal with them can set them off in two different directions," Debel told the officers. "If you deal with them warmly, it sets them in a positive direction. If you deal with them like they're criminals, it sets them off in a negative direction."

The training, developed and mandated by the provincial government, acts on the recommendations of the Braidwood inquiry into the RCMP's fatal Tasering of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski.

By the middle of the month, Saanich police will be the first department to complete the course, which teaches officers how to use communication rather than brute force to deal with a crisis, said training officer Const. Dan Mayo.

Mayo has considerable experience dealing with the mentally ill as one of the two officers on the Integrated Mobile Crisis Response Team, which sees plainclothes officers and mental health workers responding to serious incidents.

That team was created in November 2004 following the death in July 2004 of Majencio Camaso, who was shot by Const. Kris Dukeshire in the playground of Richmond elementary school in Saanich. Camaso, who had a psychiatric disorder, had gone off his medication and ran at Dukeshire with a crowbar and pipe.

A B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled in May last year that Dukeshire used excessive force and that the department was grossly negligent, ordering Saanich to pay $350,000 in damages to Camaso's family. Saanich has appealed the ruling.

The goal of the training, Mayo said, is "to prevent unnecessary risk or harm to anybody in the future by . . . using the skills that they've gleaned through this training as opposed to having the expectation that when we go in to deal with someone with mental illness that there's inherent violence."

The training consists of a four-hour online course, an eight-hour in-class session and an open-book exam.

Mayo said it is about teaching officers what it is like for someone experiencing a crisis, be it mental illness or drug-induced psychosis. Using someone's name, for example, or knowing details about them and their history, can calm someone down, he said.

"It's engaging with people and having an understanding of what they may or may not be going through at any given time and offering some sort of respite from what's gong on," Mayo said.

Victoria police is also offering the training: 138 officers have completed the course and the whole force will by trained by September.

Any officer who uses a Taser will have to complete the course by 2013 and every police officer in the province will have to have the critical incident training by January 2015.

kderosa@timescolonist.com

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