GIVE US TASERS

Their call comes in light of recent shootings of mentally ill people which occurred this year.

President of the Police Social and Welfare Association, Insp Michael Seales told Newsday yesterday that despite contradictory statements made by officials in the Ministry of National Security, police officers are not adequately trained to treat with and subdue mentally ill patients.

Seales said since the shooting death of Paul Marchan, a mentally ill man who was killed in a confrontation with police in Diego Martin in March, he has been receiving calls from his members who say they are neither trained or equipped to handle mentally ill patients.

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He said police recruits are taught a component of ‘behavioural science’, but he said this does not translate to responding to calls where mentally ill people are involved.

“We have conducted our own investigations into the matter and it is clear that police are not able to treat with the mentally ill,” he revealed.

“It is clear to see when every time a police officer has to intervene in one of these cases, the mentally ill patient ends up being wounded – sometimes fatally – that we are not trained to deal with mental patients. Non-lethal equipment like tasers and pepper spray will reduce the risk of fatalities. These tools would allow police to intervene and subdue suspects with minimal force.

This way police will be able to do their jobs and people would not have to lose their lives,” he said yesterday.

Sources at the Police Academy told Newsday that there were instructions in the police manual on handling mental patients, but there was no hands-on training for police officers.

The behavioral science module teaches police officers how to deal with troublesome patrons at a police station or how to deal with people on the street, but does not give adequate training when dealing with a person having a mental breakdown or those suffering from a mental illness.

They have suggested that police recruits and officers in the service undergo a 40-hour training module that would entail theoretical and practical training for handling the mentally ill.

Newsday was also told that the Association was working closely with a recent graduate from the academy with a master’s degree in behavioural science, to develop a training module for police to better handle the mentally ill.

Seales said this training along with non-lethal equipment would serve to greatly reduce unnecessary death.

However, both the training module and the equipment would have to be approved by the acting Commissioner of Police.

On March 14, 30-year-old Paul Marchand was shot dead by police officers while he was having a mental breakdown at his home at Richplain in Diego Martin. He was a PH driver. Police claimed he was acting violently and when they attempted to detain him, he attacked with a broken bottle and injured two policemen.

Three months later, on June 6, 23-year-old Daniel Paul was killed by police in Ste Madeline.

According to reports, police shot Paul after he threw stones at them. Reports indicate that Paul was also acting in a violent manner.

And on Friday last, another mentally ill man died from gunshot wounds after he was shot in the buttocks by a soldier. Newsday understands that Edison Thompson, 45, of Princes Town, was acting violently on a PTSC bus, near Henry Street on South Quay. When police and soldiers who were on duty tried to subdue him, he attacked them with a hammer.

On March 22, shortly after the death of Paul Marchand, Minister of National Security assured the public that there was adequate training to deal with the mentally ill, as it was part of the vigorous training that police underwent.

However, about two months later, in May, MP for Toco/ Sangre Grande, Glenda Jennings- Smith, said the police are not properly trained to deal with mental patients.

Earlier this month, acting Public Information Officer Insp Lester Kerr also said at a weekly police press briefing that police were not properly trained to deal with these situations.

“We don’t have people trained to deal with mentally ill persons.

What would normally happen is we would contact the relevant authority if it becomes necessary.

But if a police officer is on any scene and they feel that their lives, or any other person’s life is in danger, then they would act accordingly,” Kerr said.

Police officers are not authorised to use tasers as they considered to be prohibited weapons under the Firearms Act, so too is the use of pepper spray.

Source: Newsday http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,244929.html

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