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May 6, 2024 in News
By Axon Canada

In the line of duty, Canadian law enforcement personnel navigate a complex landscape where physical and mental stressors intersect with the demands of service. From confronting dangerous situations to managing emotionally charged encounters, officers face a unique blend of challenges that can take a toll on their bodies and minds. Beyond external pressures, they also grapple with internal struggles, coping with the psychological impacts of their profession.

For Toronto Police Service (TPS), technology has become a pillar in supporting both the physical and psychological safety of their officers.

“Technology plays a massive role in just about every facet of every job in Toronto Police Service these days,” says Darren Rampersaud, IT project leader at TPS.

As one of the first police services within Canada to establish an IT unit, Rampersaud says technology has integrated into the lives of officers and members for decades, even recently implementing a Chief Information Officer role that is a command officer at the deputy level. “This means that with all organization decisions, technology is always in the toolkit and plays a role at the top level, all the way down throughout the organization.”

For the policing industry, Rampersaud says investments in technology become essential in the day-to-day tasks, like organizing schedules and dispatching.

Mike Patterson, inspector with TPS who currently oversees the business relationship management unit, agrees. “No longer is a police officer, on their own, adequate enough to get the job done. A police officer partnered with technology is current state – and future state – and we need to plan for that as organizations.”

Embracing technology day-to-day
Patterson says his belief and backing of technology in policing stems from a business trip the United Kingdom in 2020, where he brought back the lesson that technology is “the only way to support delivering an effective police service to the community, and mental health ties directly into that process.”

Photo courtesy of Axon.

One of the procedural improvements TPS has implemented is a collaborative effort between the agency and the Gerstein Crisis Centre (GCC). The GCC and TPS have partnered in two ways: one, as part of the Toronto Community Crisis Service as a boots-on-the-ground support for persons in crisis. The GCC is one of four agencies that may be dispatched to certain regions of the city (after call takers eliminate safety issues). Secondly, there is a crisis worker from GCC embedded in a call centre, available to speak to callers who are experiencing a crisis or calling to report someone in crisis.

In addition, TPS’s mobile crisis intervention team includes a nurse and an officer; an option that many other services have adopted as well.

For frontline TPS officers, Patterson says the implementation of devices like Tasers and body-worn cameras from Axon Canada has been vital to help de-escalate situations.

“The footage the cameras provide for review and training, especially in situations where there’s a person in crisis, has been absolutely invaluable,” Patterson says of the Axon Body 3 camera. “Every public interaction [in relation to a crime or complaint] that will invoke me to use my powers as a police officer is recorded. Officers want to be transparent about what they’re doing. They’re professionals and have a job to do, and they’re happy to capture it on film.”

Patterson says the post-incident review provides opportunities to support and oversee officers, pinpointing opportunities for training and follow-up – and while the number of complaints and calls haven’t decreased, the speed of complaints is quicker, as body-worn cameras assist with the ability to capture statements quickly, rather than having to write them by hand. Without body-worn cameras, Rampersaud adds, many investigations would continue for much longer.

To further protect officers and the public, all TPS officers are now equipped with the Taser 7, a minimal harm device that helps save lives and minimize the use of lethal force. “At one point, just supervisors had access to a Taser, and as a response to the coroner’s inquest into the death of Andrew Loku, we invested in Tasers for all frontline personnel,” Patterson says.

Stefan Schurman, director of sales for Axon Canada, explains these two devices are intended to seamlessly integrate with Axon’s network of connected products and devices, which is designed to integrate training, in-field tactics and evidence collection – a three-pronged approach to protecting life.

“Officers often deal with complex situations or interactions, where the subject might be experiencing a mental health crisis,” Schurman says. “Having the proper training and tools is critical in terms of understanding and then effectively de-escalating those situations.”

For example, Schurman says that should an officer need to engage a Taser on a person in crisis, the officer’s action of drawing their Taser weapon would automatically activate the body-worn camera, ensuring the incident – and the moments preceding it – were captured on video. Afterwards, footage can be uploaded to Axon Evidence, where supervisors can review multiple angles to see a greater perspective of what happened.

“The goal is to help ensure that everyone gets home safely,” Schurman says.

Opportunities on the radar
Looking ahead, Rampersaud and Patterson highlight some additional opportunities for implementing new technology within TPS.

Rampersaud references the Fredericton Police, who conducted a pilot project that included livestreaming a response to a mental-health call via body-worn cameras, connecting the person in crisis with a professional who could conduct an assessment on the spot. “This is a topic of conversation that we’re excited about,” he says.

In addition, the service is looking into opportunities for virtual-reality (VR)- based training modules, which can be a cost-effective and scalable way to provide education to officers surrounding different complex situations.

“Rather than hiring actors and constructing scenarios, VR uses real-world situations in a more immersive training environment, with a wider variety of content,” Schurman says, adding that giving trainees the opportunity to repeat and revisit different scenarios and training modules builds muscle memory, allowing officers to better retain de-escalation tactics and strategies to employ in the field.

Patterson recalls a time where VR training highlighted an opportunity for mental health training among officers. During an early exposure to VR training, a module was shown that depicted an officer that was suffering from suspected post-traumatic stress. “It brought an emotional response from every single officer that participated in that [training],” Patterson says. “They came away with some really good tools to help recognize the signs and deal with emotions, so these tools work great internally too.”

When it comes to making investments into technology at TPS, Patterson and Rampersaud say every decision is based on data.

“We like to think of our projects as three-dimensional. People, process and technology are considered,” Rampersaud says. “We try to get as much feedback from our officers and take what they’re doing into considerations. We recognize that we’re adding more tools to be adept at using – and likely adding more to their plate. But continuous improvement is necessary.”

Patterson agrees. “[Rampersaud] and his team dove in with the officers and our command did a great job of reaching out to the community and partnering with the Privacy Commissioner. If you are only able to afford one item at a time, take note of what other services are prioritizing and listen to what your community needs,” he advises.

“Every great idea that contributes to the frontline activities starts with a cop on the road,” Patterson concludes. “Prior to body-warn cameras, officers would want to use their own cellphones to capture evidence during an interaction, this was obviously not ideal. All of these technologies are generated from a need, and they all contribute to a safer community.”

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