Blue Line

Crisis negotiators should wear body cameras, Sudbury investigation says

December 10, 2021  By Canadian Press / Local Journalism Initiative

Dec. 9, 2021, Sudbury, Ont. – More officers should be trained in crisis negotiations and crisis negotiators should wear body cameras, an internal investigation Greater Sudbury Police conducted has concluded.

They are among a series of recommendations to come out of the investigation into a fatal incident that occurred on Paris Street’s Bridge of Nations in March.

The investigation concluded there was no misconduct on behalf of Sudbury police officers, but it made recommendations to strengthen operations going forward.

Details of the investigation were released during a police board meeting on Wednesday.

Chief of Police Paul Pedersen said he launched the internal investigation in July after Ontario’s special investigations unit cleared police of any wrongdoing.

The incident in question occurred on March 19, 2021, when a 43-year-old woman in crisis “fell from the bridge” and later succumbed to her injuries.

“I initiated an internal investigation focusing on three different areas, including our policies and procedures, our equipment, and our training,” said Pederson, adding that the investigation was conducted by the service’s professional standards bureau. “Through investigation, we came up with some recommendations that will help us move forward.”

The recommendations include a review of the service’s crisis negotiation standards, crisis negotiation training for all tactical unit officers, assigning body-worn cameras to crisis negotiators, and Mental Health First Aid training for all police service members.

According to the report, police responded to the incident shortly after 5 p.m. after receiving multiple 911 calls about a woman “sitting on the edge of the bridge.”

“Initial attempts to speak with the female were met with her warning that if officers came any closer, she would jump,” said the report.

Two trained crisis negotiators were called to the scene as a result.

“At one point during the course of negotiating with the female, she went outside of the railing and began to hold on with one arm,” said the report.

“Officers continued to negotiate with her; however, she refused to allow the officers to assist her.”

After the woman fell from the bridge, she was treated by Greater Sudbury Emergency Medical Services and transported to Health Sciences North where she was pronounced dead.

“Further to the SIU’s determination that there was no criminal intent, the (internal) review determined there was no misconduct on behalf of the officers involved,” said the report.

“Investigations revealed that there was no violation of any policy or procedure, equipment or training.”

The report’s first recommendation suggested a “review and amendment” of the police service’s crisis negotiation procedure “to ensure alignment with Critical Incident Working Group Standards and best practices” when dealing with persons in crisis.

“One of the things that came out of the investigation was a commitment to have our inspector in charge of integrated operations continue to work with a provincial working group on those incidents,” said Pedersen during the board meeting.

“I can reassure you that that work is active right now. In fact, that inspector has just come back from some provincial training in that area.”

The review also recommended continued crisis negotiation training for all members of the service’s tactical unit.

“I am pretty sure the board understands that we’ve got a deployment here where our tactical officers are also frontline officers. They don’t just work as one unit – on any given day, we could have tactical officers out on patrol,” said Pedersen.

“It’s very valuable to have that skill set available for these types of calls, because it takes a while to call people out from home, get them into the workplace, change their clothes and get back out.”

The service currently has 33 members trained in crisis negotiation, 16 of whom are “dually trained” in tactical operations.

Pedersen said that having all tactical unit officers trained in crisis negotiation isn’t a provincial standard, but he believes that it would work well in Sudbury.

“These negotiations we’re involved in are always those high-risk situations where weapons are involved. The availability of crisis negotiators 24/7 on the road is recommended,” he said.

“Furthermore, one of the recommendations is that our crisis negotiators be considered for body-worn camera deployment.”

The internal review recommended body-worn cameras for crisis negotiators because they would have provided “a more detailed and thorough account of the interaction between officers and the female” during the incident and assisted the SIU in its investigation.

Pedersen said “a clear record of what transpired” would be useful in addition to providing “a real opportunity for training” in the future.

“Not unlike what sports teams do at the end of games to see what lessons are learned. We see this as a big advantage,” he said.

“I’m not in a position yet to update the board exactly on a rollout plan for body-worn cameras, but as we continue to progress down that road, we will consider that recommendation.”

The final recommendation in the review suggested the continued expansion of Mental Health First Aid training for all police service members.

“Some feedback that I’m getting is that it’s some of the best training that any of our members have received at a level that really teaches about the impacts of trauma, evaluating risk of suicide, assisting people who need professional help, and listening without judgment,” said Pederson.

“To continue to push that training out organization-wide is another recommendation I accept and will commit to make happen.”

The review concluded that “involved officers acted in accordance with current procedural and training standards for high-risk suicidal persons.”

Insp. Sara Cunningham said that it is standard practice for police to conduct a parallel internal investigation when the SIU invokes its mandate to review the service’s policies and procedures as they relate to the incident in question.

“What’s really unique about these situations is that they are dynamic – no situation is ever the same. We could do the same thing 100 times and have 99 different outcomes,” she said.

“This particular situation unfolded very quickly, and it was unfortunate that it ended the way it did.”

The service recently launched a Mobile Crisis Rapid Response Team in partnership with Health Sciences North and the Canadian Mental Health Association to help improve their response to mental health and addictions emergencies in the community.

“We’ve heard loud and clear across the province that sometimes police officers aren’t the best people to be responding to these incidents,” said Cunningham.

“That’s why we’ve created this partnership. It’s definitely going to be a benefit to the city.”

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