Valuable lessons to be learned from the Hyde inquiry

The Howard Hyde fatality inquiry has not been kind to Halifax Regional Police so far.

 

The Howard Hyde fatality inquiry has not been kind to Halifax Regional Police so far.

 

Evidence has shown many small but serious differences between police notes and video surveillance of the man’s Tasering. Things that appear in police records, like Hyde refusing orders to go down and police warning him he was about to be Tasered, have been revealed to have never happened.

 

Hyde family lawyer Kevin MacDonald is alleging a big cover-up, with officers slanting their notes to justify their colleagues’ actions. It’s an interesting topic well worth exploration, but in the end nothing will come from it.

 

Police are always going to look out for each other and this inquiry isn’t going to change that. But more fixable problems have already popped up.

Maybe police shouldn’t be charging people with assaulting a police officer, as Hyde was, when the officer is alleged to have been accidentally kicked in the middle of a scuffle and said himself he didn’t feel victimized.

And maybe drawers full of knives could be made safer by ensuring they are locked -- or nonexistent.

But what’s becoming abundantly clear is that police should never have been in this situation in the first place.

Here they were with an unmedicated, mentally ill man with no policies to handle him and no place to put him. They could throw him in a cell and hope his condition didn’t worsen until morning, or they could take him to the hospital and spend hours in a waiting room with a potentially violent individual.

About the only concession to the mentally ill is the Mobile Crisis Unit hotline. It’s a good start, but it’s merely a first step that leads people into the same broken system Hyde found himself in. It’s like a life preserver thrown to a drowning man from a sinking ship.

A lot of attention was paid to the fact the officer who knew Hyde suffered from schizophrenia didn’t tell his colleagues about it. Some could chalk that up to stupidity, but it seems more due to being underwhelmed. Dealing with mentally sick people apparently has become common to police that it’s almost mundane.

Two weeks into the inquiry and it couldn’t be clearer the justice system isn’t built for people with mental illness. New training, new policies, and mental health courts – all of these are going to be far more important steps than scolding police for fudging their notes.

 
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