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Outgoing deputy chief Mike Federico ‘unreservedly’ endorses Tasers for front-line cops

Outgoing deputy chief Mike Federico ‘unreservedly’ endorses Tasers for front-line cops
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Mike Federico thought he knew what he was signing on for when, at 20, he joined the ranks of the Metropolitan Toronto Police Force in 1972. The job was primarily about security, he believed — the maintenance of order and the enforcement of laws.

“It soon became apparent that a lot of our work is social support, it’s community well-being,” the outgoing Deputy Police Chief said in an interview this week, his 7th floor police headquarters office nearly cleared out in advance of his retirement Friday.

“You make this realization fairly early on.”

In his 45 years with Toronto police, Federico has served in widely varying roles, including as an internal affairs investigator and leading the controversial and now-disbanded Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS). But his final years have seen him focus on police interactions with people in mental health crisis, work done amidst high-profile shootings and mounting calls for an end to fatal police encounters.

That included leading the implementation of a report commissioned after the death of Sammy Yatim, the 18-year-old shot dead on a streetcar by Toronto police officer James Forcillo, who was later convicted of attempted murder in the death ( he has appealed the conviction).

The report, conducted by retired Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci, recommended changes aimed at ensuring zero deaths occur during police encounters with people in crisis. The document and its recommendations will be “guiding our response to people in crisis for the foreseeable future,” Federico said.

While he stresses that key societal changes are needed to help those with mental health challenges — greater investments in housing, education and health care — he’s realistic that policing today means officers are often front-line mental health workers. The Star spoke to the outgoing deputy chief about his suggestions to improve police interactions with people in crisis.

Tasers

Calling it a move “virtually every police service” in Ontario is making, Federico says he “categorically and unreservedly” endorses equipping front-line officers with conducted energy weapons, the controversial tool better known as a Taser.

Currently only available to select few front-line supervisors and some members of specialized units, Toronto police asked its board for nearly 50 per cent more Tasers to allow more front-line officers access to the weapon. The board did not approve but called for greater community consultation on the weapon.

But equipping police with a less-lethal weapon has been recommended by jurors in coroner’s inquests into police-involved deaths, most recently the fatal Toronto police shooting of Andrew Loku.

Federico said having a Taser strapped to a cop’s belt does not mean they are “weaponizing” the police; it’s about giving officer another option to consider before deciding on the deadliest force. The emphasis will still be placed on officers attempting to communicate with a person in crisis and attempt to de-escalate a tense situation, Federico stresses.

“We all recognize that there are going to be some situations that force a police officer into using force, and so giving them a less injurious option is in my opinion very desirable.”

Race-based statistics

The lack of data on the intersection of mental health and race has been increasingly raised by critics as a serious blind spot, particularly when it comes to police use of force.

Late last year, a Toronto police board advisory committee comprising more than two dozen hospital leaders and mental-health professionals called upon the Toronto police and the board for greater demographic data to better understand police use of force on people with mental-health challenges. Their voices were added to a chorus already calling for race-based stats, including civil liberties groups and .

Federico said he supports the collection of race-based statistics, saying Toronto police are in consultations with Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate on developing policies and processes for collecting such data in cases of police use of force, including Taser use.

“The more information you collect, the better your public policy decisions will be,” Federico said, adding he suspects there will be more areas where Toronto police collect race data.

Mobile crisis intervention

The expansion of the Mobile Crisis Intervention Units (MCIT) program has long been demanded by mental health advocates, lawyers, community groups and more.

In recent years Toronto police have expanded the hours of the program, which sees a mental-health nurse partnered with a specially trained police officer to respond to emergency calls involving people with mental health challenges, but the teams are still not available 24 hours a day.

The current hours of operation are determined by the volume of calls to ensure the teams are available during peak times. Toronto police are “doing what we can based on both affordability and the needs assessment,” Federico said.

“We have to be very mindful that the hospitals are a willing, genuine partner but one that is challenged and taxed with the cost of running a team,” Federico said, noting the hospital’s primary mandate is the delivery of health services “not supplying relief for police.”

But he says there is a commitment both from Toronto police and hospitals involved in the program to continue to evaluate expanding the hours. “We recognize that people’s health and welfare is a 24-hours-a-day need,” he said.
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