Supporting the forgotten victims, improving the notification process
By Scott Villers
In the province of Ontario a great deal of controversy and discussion has arisen from incidents of use of force involving police and mentally ill persons.
By Scott Villers
As a result, there have been calls for reform to police training, which has resulted in police services in the Greater Toronto Area examining their policies, procedures and training when dealing with these situations. A great deal of work and progress has been made in this area.
The criminal justice system has also came under examination when a person suffering from mental illness is charged criminally and is found not criminally responsible (NCR) after a trial. In the City of Toronto, one of the most recent high profile cases was the trial of Richard Kachkar. He was tried for the death of Toronto Police Sergeant Ryan Russell. He was found to be NCR by virtue of a mental illness.
One of the major follow on issues for those found NCR after a trial is the limited notification resources for the victims of those criminal acts. It is important to address both the well-being and safety of the victims and their family, and for the well-being, safety and proper management of the subject found NCR.
Proper notification and management of information means that law enforcement and the health care resources are better able to manage the needs and concerns of both victims and the subject while the risky work of attempting to rehabilitate and re-integrate subject into society is undertaken. Proper notification systems allow the police and other services to manage the concerns of both the victims and subjects, while reducing the heightened tensions caused by the victim’s genuine fear that the subject is being released and whether or not they are properly prepared and supported. The tensions caused by these issues rise measurably when the media is also alarmed.
This issue has now been addressed by the Toronto Police Service and a new process has been created to support and inform the victims involved in these types of cases.
When a person is found NCR they will become the subject of an Ontario Review Board (ORB) assessment. The assessment includes the subject and their lawyer, counsel for the crown and a hospital representative. In this process there is limited opportunity for victim participation. A victim may choose to prepare a victim impact statement for the tribunal. The Toronto Police Service and Victim Services do provide support to the victim before and during the trial but there are few resources or support for the victim when the ORB assessment occurs.
Once declared NCR and further assessed, the subject is bound by an ORB disposition. The disposition usually results in the subject being admitted to a psychiatric facility for treatment and may eventually result in greater degrees of freedom until the subject begins to live in the community while still bound by the conditions of the ORB disposition. While under an ORB disposition, the subject may be granted privileges including day passes (if they are held in a facility). This is dependent on the mental state of the subject and the progress they are making with their treatment.
Historically there has been an issue with psychiatric facilities not notifying the police or victims about these decreasing restrictions and conditions. Passes were granted to subjects, which resulted in increased fear for the general public and particularly with the victims concerning their safety when it became known that the subject was released temporarily or permanently. This was not helpful in particular for the victims in the matter or the subject declared NCR. This has been seen as an issue for all of the involved parties to safely move on with their lives.
The main psychiatric medical facility in the City of Toronto is the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). This hospital is located within the boundaries of 14 Division (the west side of the downtown core). Officers from 14 Division deal with high volumes of calls about people who suffer from mental illness issues, and frequently make arrests and lay criminal charges as a result of those calls.
Because of the high number of cases involving the mentally ill within 14 Division, Detective Sergeant Ian McArthur identified an issue with the lack of victim notification and support in cases where a subject had been found NCR.
While the Toronto Police always supports organizations like CAMH with their work helping reintegrate NCR subjects back into the community, there was clearly an area where changes had to take place to ensure support for the victims in the original criminal case.
The process created by Detective Sergeant McArthur and other officers in 14 Division first involved identifying all stakeholders including CAMH, the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), TPS Legal Services, TPS Senior Officers, Victim Services and other organizations that are involved in the process.
Numerous meetings then took place during 2016 and a plan was created to address the victim notification issues.
The process involves the CAMH giving formal notification to the TPS (and to a lesser extent the OPP) of a subject who is under an ORB disposition who has been granted pass privileges. After being notified, the TPS Records Management Services sends a notification to the detective sergeant at the affected division.
The detective sergeant then assigns the notification to the lead investigator who must notify the victim of the new pass privilege being issued, within 24 to 48 hours.
The lead investigator will ensure regular contact with the victim, providing any updates when they become available. Additional updates and notifications are added to the Versadex RMS to ensure proper tracking of the process. Before this system was implemented, lack of communication about the process caused the victims to feel confused and unsupported. With the new system, there are also benefits for the subject on their return to the community.
The new management and notification system went live across the TPS on October 3, 2016.
Even after the introduction of the new process, the TPS has continued to look at ways to respond and improve support to victims of crimes committed by those found NCR. This includes contact with the Ministry of the Attorney General Victim Services program and the formation of an ORB Victim Support Committee which was started in December 2016.
This new management and notification process will allow victims to be kept informed and supported after a subject found NCR is released on day passes.
It also ensures compliance with the Victim Bill of Rights which was passed in 2015. The Bill allows the victim a say in the process.
The process has also allowed for a safer environment where fears are managed and addressed to allow the subject, who is trying to reintegrate into society after a major illness, to see if their healing is progressing. The new atmosphere of communication addresses security issues and better manages public safety and concerns.
Scott Villers is a sergeant with the Toronto Police Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. D/Sgt (now Acting Inspector) Ian McArther can be reached at email@example.com.