Police need mental health training, Liberals say

Last Updated: Friday, November 30, 2007

CBC News

The Nova Scotia Liberals want every police officer and jail guard in the province to receive training in how to deal with people suffering from a mental illness.

The idea comes from the Canadian Mental Health Association, but Liberal MLA Michel Samson is pleased to champion the cause.

"We're seeing too many examples of where one has to ask if there was better training in place that we could have avoided some of the unfortunate confrontations that have taken place between police and mental health individuals," Samson said Thursday.

Samson pointed to the case of Howard Hyde, who died in a Dartmouth jail last week after two scuffles with guards and a confrontation with police that resulted in him being shocked with a Taser.

Hyde, 45, suffered from paranoid schizophrenia. His widow said he was off his medication when he was arrested and tried to flee the police station, while his sister said he had a deep fear of the stun guns after a jolt by police two years earlier.

Samson said he plans to introduce a bill in the legislature next week that would make special training mandatory.

Keith Brumwell, a retired RCMP officer now with the CMHA, agrees the training is needed, and not just for a select group of officers.

"In a rural detachment, it's very important to have training for each individual officer because to have specialized units throughout Nova Scotia with the RCMP is just impractical. If you're in a three-person detachment in Guysborough, it's an hour before you get a specialized unit and then the crisis is over," he said.

Brumwell, who spent 32 years with RCMP, said a psychotic person who is hearing voices will have a hard time understanding what an officer is ordering them to do.

"That leads to perhaps an officer making the decision that, 'that person is going to fight with me then I'm going to use perhaps the Taser on them [because] he's not responding to my verbal intervention,'" he said.

Understanding how mentally ill people react in different situations may allow police to better tailor the way they approach that person, Brumwell said.

Samson said such training is already in place in Newfoundland and Labrador, while New Brunswick is considering it.

Both the RCMP and Halifax Regional Police say officers are given some mental health training as part of basic training.