WHY CANA­DIAN PO­LICE ARE SO GOOD AT NOT SHOOT­ING PEO­PLE

Edmonton Journal - - ATTACK ON YONGE - TrisTin Hop­per

There has been world­wide amaze­ment that Toronto Po­lice did not shoot the sus­pect in Mon­day’s ve­hic­u­lar at­tack.

He had left a street strewn with bod­ies and was wield­ing an ob­ject that he claimed was a firearm. Nev­er­the­less, Const. Ken Lam not only ar­rested him with­out us­ing lethal force, but did it with­out wait­ing for backup.

Seven months ago, when a 30-year-old man per­pe­trated a sim­i­lar ve­hic­u­lar at­tack in down­town Ed­mon­ton — which in­jured four, in ad­di­tion to the stab­bing of a po­lice of­fi­cer — he too was ap­pre­hended with­out a sin­gle shot be­ing fired. Both events speak to a pat­tern: Cana­dian po­lice are very good at not shoot­ing peo­ple.

“Polic­ing in Canada is not polic­ing in Amer­ica … the po­lice in Canada use force with in­cred­i­ble in­fre­quency,” said Joel John­ston, a vet­eran Van­cou­ver Po­lice of­fi­cer and for­mer use-of-force co-or­di­na­tor for Bri­tish Columbia.

A re­cent CBC anal­y­sis found that be­tween 2000 and 2017, 461 peo­ple were killed as a re­sult of in­ter­ac­tions with po­lice in Canada. Of those deaths, 70 per cent were caused by gun­shots — or about 19 po­lice shoot­ing deaths per year.

In the United States by con­trast, an av­er­age of 982 peo­ple per year have been shot and killed by po­lice since 2015, ac­cord­ing to The Washington Post. Even given the larger pop­u­la­tion, that’s a per capita rate of po­lice shoot­ings seven times higher than in Canada.

Canada’s far lower rate of gun crime cer­tainly plays a role, but John­ston cred­its po­lice train­ing pro­grams that pri­or­i­tize de-es­ca­la­tion over con­fronta­tion. “(Cana­dian po­lice) are trained to try and calm folks down,” he said.

This was no­tably on dis­play in Mon­day’s ar­rest when, soon af­ter ar­riv­ing on scene, Const. Lam turned off the siren on his cruiser so the sus­pect could bet­ter hear his com­mands. “If you can’t phys­i­cally com­mu­ni­cate with some­one, the process doesn’t move for­ward,” said John­ston.

Chris­tian Le­uprecht, a crime pol­icy re­searcher at both Queen’s Univer­sity and Royal Mil­i­tary Col­lege, said that from avail­able video of Mon­day’s ar­rest it is im­me­di­ately clear that the of­fi­cer did not be­lieve he was fac­ing some­one hold­ing a firearm.

“I get the sense that (the of­fi­cer) as­sessed the risk to be low,” he said, adding that the of­fi­cer ap­peared to be very ex­pe­ri­enced with such stand­offs. “This is not his first time at the rodeo.”

In a nor­mal en­counter with an armed sus­pect, a po­lice of­fi­cer is trained to crouch be­hind the en­gine block of the cruiser, thus en­sur­ing that any bul­lets will be ab­sorbed by the ve­hi­cle. In­stead, video footage shows that the re­spond­ing of­fi­cer took an ex­posed po­si­tion in front of the sus­pect.

John­ston noted that it’s dif­fi­cult to use grainy video to gauge what Const. Lam would have been able to see — a rule he says should ap­ply equally in con­tro­ver­sial videos in­volv­ing al­leged in­stances of ex­ces­sive force.

“When peo­ple look at video, they don’t know what they don’t know,” he said.

Toronto po­lice have pro­vided few de­tails as to what guided the of­fi­cer’s ac­tions on Mon­day, with Chief Mark Saun­ders telling a press con­fer­ence it was due to “the high-cal­i­bre train­ing that takes place.”

Po­lice are in­deed trained to quickly dis­tin­guish be­tween guns and other ob­jects. In fact, the Toronto Po­lice mu­seum, housed on the first floor of Toronto Po­lice Ser­vice head­quar­ters, in­cludes an in­ter­ac­tive ex­hibit on the me­chan­ics of split­sec­ond gun iden­ti­fi­ca­tion.

Le­uprecht noted that Const. Lam took his time to walk back and forth across the scene be­fore de­cid­ing to make an ar­rest. “He spends a good minute as­sess­ing the sit­u­a­tion,” he said. At one point, he even backs away to give him­self more space.

This isn’t to say the con­sta­ble wasn’t en­ter­ing a po­ten­tially deadly sit­u­a­tion. The sus­pect could have been wear­ing an ex­plo­sive vest or there could have been ex­plo­sives in the van. It’s also within the realm of pos­si­bil­ity that the sus­pect could have been hold­ing an un­con­ven­tional or makeshift firearm.

At sim­i­lar at­tacks in Europe and Is­rael, per­pe­tra­tors have of­ten jumped from the car to con­tinue the at­tack.

“If you’re re­spond­ing to a guy who just mowed down 10 peo­ple, you could die on that call,” said Le­uprecht.

Given the cir­cum­stances, it would have been con­sid­ered well within pro­ce­dure if the re­spond­ing of­fi­cer had sim­ply con­tained the sus­pect from a dis­tance and waited for Toronto’s SWAT­like Emer­gency Task Force to con­duct the ar­rest.

Close in­spec­tion of the video, though, shows Const. Lam grad­u­ally be­com­ing more con­fi­dent in front of the sus­pect, un­til he sees an open­ing to per­form the ar­rest him­self. With un­aware pedes­tri­ans only steps away, it was ob­vi­ously prefer­able to get the sus­pect in hand­cuffs as quickly as pos­si­ble.

Sev­eral as­pects of the at­tacker’s be­hav­iour might have outed him as be­ing some­one who could be ap­proached with­out the use of lethal force, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts con­tacted by the Na­tional Post.

No­tably, un­like most ter­ror sus­pects, he re­peat­edly per­formed furtive move­ments in an ap­par­ent at­tempt to draw a lethal re­sponse from the of­fi­cer. “Shoot me in the head,” he said at one point.

“I look at that sit­u­a­tion and I do not be­lieve that this in­di­vid­ual’s mo­tive was ter­ror-ori­ented,” said Nir Ma­man, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor with the Cana­dian Tac­ti­cal Of­fi­cers’ As­so­ci­a­tion. “His ac­tions are very, very in­dica­tive of a phe­nom­e­non called ‘sui­cide by cop.’ ”

In a video shot from above, doc­u­ment­ing the fi­nal mo­ments be­fore Lam takes hold of the sus­pect, it even ap­pears as if the of­fi­cer hol­sters his firearm and de­ploys an ex­pand­able ba­ton in­stead.

“At that point, I would say that be­comes a mo­ment when the of­fi­cer is ex­plic­itly able to iden­tify that the ob­ject was not in fact a firearm,” said Ma­man.

As per stan­dard train­ing, Cana­dian po­lice are in­structed to care­fully pair their “use of force” with the sit­u­a­tion they’re fac­ing. This would ex­plain why the of­fi­cer im­me­di­ately swapped a gun for a ba­ton upon con­firm­ing he was fac­ing a less threat­en­ing sit­u­a­tion. “That is all train­ing-based,” said Ma­man.

Although the ar­rest has been hailed as an ex­am­ple of hu­mane polic­ing, there are also strate­gic rea­sons to cap­ture an at­tacker alive.

Le­uprecht noted that within hours of the at­tack, pub­lic safety min­is­ter Ralph Goodale was able to con­firm it was not part of a co­or­di­nated ter­ror­ist plot. This ob­vi­ously would have been much harder to ver­ify if po­lice had only a bul­let-rid­dled body next to a Ry­der van.

(CANA­DIAN PO­LICE) ARE TRAINED TO TRY AND CALM FOLKS DOWN... IF YOU CAN’T PHYS­I­CALLY COM­MU­NI­CATE WITH SOME­ONE, THE PROCESS DOESN’T MOVE FOR­WARD.

— JOEL JOHN­STON, VAN­COU­VER PO­LICE

SUP­PLIED

Const. Ken Lam, right, faces off with Alek Mi­nas­sian af­ter the van ram­page Mon­day.

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