Inquest calls for OPP officers to get annual mental health training

·3 min read
Babak Saidi, 43, was shot to death at the Morrisburg, Ont., OPP detachment on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017. (Submitted by Elly Saidi/Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Babak Saidi, 43, was shot to death at the Morrisburg, Ont., OPP detachment on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017. (Submitted by Elly Saidi/Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The coroner's inquest into the death of an eastern Ontario man who was fatally shot at an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) detachment on Friday issued 16 recommendations to improve how police handle people at high risk of violence or who may have mental health issues.

Babak Saidi, 43, died at the OPP detachment in Morrisburg, Ont., on Dec. 23, 2017, after an attempted arrest during his mandatory weekly check-in — a condition of a 2014 conviction.

The arrest was based on a complaint from three days earlier, where Saidi allegedly threatened a woman who dropped a flyer off at his property with a knife.

Ontario's police watchdog investigated and found there were no reasonable grounds to lay criminal charges against the officer who shot Saidi.

Among the recommendations the family of Babak Saidi sought and the inquest's jury agreed on are dedicated mandatory mental health training to be delivered as part of the annual re-certification process for officers and re-allocating more training time to de-escalation techniques during annual use of force certifications.

The recommendations also call for improvements to how officers are trained to plan arrests for individuals who may pose a higher risk — including identifying factors that could complicate an arrest, such as mental health issues, unpredictability, past incidents with police or a history of violence.

Some of the training is specifically directed at sergeants, including leadership training and their role in the planning, briefing and execution stages of arrest.

Review Use of Force Model

The inquest jury also called for updates to Ontario's Use of Force Model, which was published in 2004.

While the inquest heard the model is currently under review, jurors used their recommendation to call for the Ministry of the Solicitor General to ensure de-escalation is emphasized as a "foundational principle" and to recommend renaming the model to better reflect the range of tools and techniques officers can use in different situations.

Submitted by Elly Saidi
Submitted by Elly Saidi

Speaking after the recommendations were released, Babak Saidi's sister Elly told CBC News her hope for some semblance of closure would come from the recommendations being implemented urgently.

"It will always leave a gaping hole, but it is my wish and my hope that through the inquest that was held for him, even if one of the recommendations will be implemented, that perhaps it will save another life — even if it saves one life," she said.

She said the need for updated training was apparent in how trainers and officers could remember how much time was devoted to each use of force option, but couldn't give even a ballpark figure for time spent on mental health training.

She said she's concerned the recommendations will collect dust along with the recommendations from other inquests.

While lawyers representing the Ministry of the Solicitor-General told the inquest they supported the majority of recommendations proposed in closing arguments, there were some where they withheld support.

Hoursa Yazdi, the lawyer from the Ministry of the Solicitor-General, said those recommendations described changes already underway or parts of training that already existed in some form.

The jury also called for improvements on how police manage and share information about subjects — including how officers can access reports and expertise from the OPP's Threat and Behavioural Analysis Team — and research into creating a system that would assign a numerical measurement of risk when individuals are flagged for violence.

Saidi's sister said seeing the flags on her brother's police file during the inquest made her feel like the system had failed him, given he didn't receive resources to address those issues.

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