More training might help police deal with the mentally ill: N.S. police officer

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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HALIFAX - A Halifax police officer testifying at an inquiry into the death of a man who had schizophrenia and died 30 hours after being Tasered conceded Wednesday that more training would help officers in dealing with the mentally ill.
Const. Gyles Gillis said he remembered little of what he learned about mental health issues during his training at a police academy in P.E.I., just more than a year before he responded to a domestic dispute call involving Howard Hyde.
Specifically, Gillis said he couldn't recall if the training included how to distinguish between someone who is high or intoxicated, and someone who is having a mental health crisis.
He couldn't remember how much mental health training he received or if officers are taught to consider whether someone might be suffering from a mental disorder when answering a call.
"Are you taught how to make that distinction?" Angela Byrne, a lawyer for the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, said at the second day of the hearing.
"I don't recall," Gillis said. "Sometimes it's very difficult to distinguish."
When asked if more mental health training might help officers, Gillis said most of the many calls they deal with involving people with mental health issues are resolved peacefully.
"It's very unfortunate what happened here and I believe that any other additional training may help and I would welcome any additional training," he said.
The line of questioning is central to the inquiry, which is trying to determine what happened to Hyde before he died at a Dartmouth correctional facility more than a day after being Tasered twice by police.
Lawyers are looking at how Hyde was treated by police, corrections officers and others after he was arrested on a complaint of domestic assault involving his common-law spouse on Nov. 21, 2007.
Gillis also said that as he was heading to Hyde's apartment, he didn't bother to turn on the computer in his police car to do a background check on the man because he was assigned to a foot patrol duty that night.
Still, Gillis - who now works for the RCMP - conceded it would have been helpful if checking the computer had been part of the beat officer's usual routine.
The database showed Hyde had a lengthy history with the police and had been charged with various offences linked to his mental illness.
"It's very concerning what I heard in terms of that lack of training," Stephen Ayer of the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia said outside the courtroom.
"I was actually dumbstruck by the fact the level of training was so low."
The inquiry also heard that a doctor who treated Hyde after he had been Tasered had instructed officers to return him to the hospital if he had not undergone a psychiatric evaluation.
Dr. Janet MacIntyre ordered police to bring Hyde back to the Halifax hospital after they took him to be booked on several charges related to a struggle at police headquarters.
But it appears officers took Hyde to the police station and then to the correctional facility nearby.
Gillis conceded it might be helpful to have more guidance on how to handle medical information.
Dan MacRury, the inquiry's lead counsel, said health forms in this case are one part of a puzzle that might help explain what happened to Hyde.

Organizations: Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia, RCMP, Halifax hospital

Geographic location: HALIFAX, Dartmouth

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