OTTAWA – Calls for changes to police training are getting louder after Abdirahman Abdi, a mentally-ill Ottawa man, died in the wake of a confrontation with police this week.
Abdi, 37, died on Monday after an arrest that witnesses described as violent.
Ontario’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU), the province’s police watchdog, is now probing the actions of two Ottawa Police officers. Global News has learned the officers are Const. David Weir and Const. Daniel Montsion.
Neither officer is has been charged. Ottawa Police Service confirmed to Global News the two officers are still on the job and there has been “no change to their status.”
But Kash Heed, a former B.C. police chief, said the incident underscores that police forces need to start doing what they are saying when it comes to crisis intervention.
“We have police leaders all across Canada, and elsewhere in North America, talking about crisis intervention,” said Heed, who also served as B.C.’s solicitor-general.
“Unfortunately, at times, those are just words that don’t necessarily lead to action or training. So, the officers still resort to their use of force.”
There are several videos online showing the aftermath of the confrontation, including a bloodied and unconscious Abdi lying on the ground.
Heed called those images concerning.
“I don’t see any weapon utilized by the suspect. I don’t know if there was a weapon. We’ll find out later,” he said. “But given what I’ve read on this particular incident and what I’ve reviewed, I don’t see the circumstances where the officers safety was in jeopardy.”
Heed said it’s time training is updated to say the number one priority is crisis intervention, followed by the safety for the officers and the individual, not the use of force.
And he’s not alone in calling for changes.
Ontario ombudsman Paul Dube launched a probe into provincial guidelines on police use of force after Toronto teenager Sammy Yatim was shot by an officer on a streetcar in 2013.
His scathing report, released just weeks ago, called for more training on de-escalating tense situations.
“The more skills, the better training that police have on de-escalation, when they come into contact with a person in crisis, I think the better odds are that the outcome will not be fatal,” Dube told Global News Wednesday.
Dube said yelling commands and drawing weapons won’t work when dealing with someone in a crisis stemming from mental illness or drugs.
But the police union defends the use of force as necessary to ensure public safety.
Back in 2014, Ottawa police implemented new training for de-escalating crisis cases, a program developed in B.C.
Whether the officers involved in this incident received that training is still unclear.
The police union has also been calling for body cameras for their members, something that could help piece together what happened, but the force is not considering that.
Probing questions permeated an emotional vigil for Abdi held Wednesday night, where the anger and grief was still raw.
“He couldn’t speak for himself. It’s just sad and we want to support the family,” said one mourner.
“What happened? How did that altercation turn out the way it did?” Ottawa City Coucillor Jeff Lieper asked at the vigil. “Right now, I don’t have nearly enough facts to know.”
Abdi will be laid to rest in a funeral on Friday, as the SIU continues its search for the answers still haunting the community.