Halifax Regional Police say they are training officers to better defuse volatile situations with the mentally ill before having to resort to the use of a Taser, a fatality inquiry was told yesterday.
Sgt. Dean Stienburg, who trains police on the use of force, said the department is trying to equip officers with the skills to detect signs of mental illness and to de-escalate situations before having to deploy stun guns.
He said the force has changed its policies on mental health training since Howard Hyde, a 45-year-old musician with a long history of paranoid schizophrenia, died in custody 30 hours after being Tasered by police.
“What we're focusing on now is when is it appropriate to use this device,” he told the inquiry.
“What we're trying to do is raise awareness and how to recognize subtle clues ... that the person needs assistance.”
The officer said they routinely adapt their training about mental health and the use of stun guns as research yields new information on the best use of the devices.
He said the force will change training guidelines next year to include emphasis on so-called empty-hand controls - or those that don't involve restraint devices - to restrain a person and avoid using a Taser.
They also plan to train dispatchers to recognize signs of mental health disorders when a 911 call is made and to deploy Emergency Health Services in such cases.
Stienburg said they expect to emphasize that people displaying signs of excited delirium should be treated as medical emergencies in need of immediate attention.
The revisions by police come two years after Hyde was arrested following a complaint of domestic assault. He was taken to police headquarters, where he was Tasered after becoming agitated as officers tried to fingerprint him.
He died the following day at a correctional facility. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death as excited delirium, linked to schizophrenia.