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MANDEL

Kudos to cops who dealt with TTC incident

By Michele Mandel, Toronto Sun

The Toronto Police video never mentions the name of their convicted colleague.

But the shadow of Const. James Forcillo hovers in the background just the same, like the embarrassing relative you do your best to ignore — and your best to demonstrate how different you are.

While Forcillo was sitting at home on bail as he appeals his six-year sentence for the attempted murder of Sammy Yatim, the teen he gunned down on an empty streetcar three summers ago, police received another radio call for a man armed with a knife aboard a TTC vehicle. How differently this incident would end.

A TPS video posted on Twitter Tuesday describes how officers successfully apprehended the man a few weeks ago after hours of negotiation. Part of their #HowWeDoIt series, the safe outcome stands in such stark contrast to the deadly end that met 18-year-old Yatim.

This is what should have happened.

The recent incident hardly made the news — it was July 30, a slow Saturday afternoon, and the 60 Steeles West bus heading to Finch subway station was suddenly commandeered around noon by a “person in crisis” armed with a knife.

In the video, Sgt. Lawrence Sager described how his officers from 32 division, as well as York Regional Police arrived, blocked in the bus and flipped the “kill switch” at the back of the vehicle to disable the engine.

With the driver and all the passengers off the bus, they now had all the time in the world.

The armed man was contained with police surrounding him. Just like Yatim. There were spectators everywhere. Just like Yatim. In fact, there were far more near this standoff — Sager estimated there were 500 people standing around, watching to see what would happen.

Yet unlike the Forcillo situation, where he opened fire within 50 seconds of arriving on the scene, these officers patiently tried to communicate with the man and convince him to surrender. They offered him water and Gatorade. It took hours, but eventually everyone got out alive.

Forcillo never even asked Yatim’s name before he started shooting. A jury acquitted him of murder for discharging the first three fatal bullets. But they found no justification for pausing briefly and then firing six more times at the dying teen.

There was never need for any of those bullets — as this recent case so clearly shows.

According to Sager, the knife-wielding man remained in the bus driver’s seat and initially refused to speak to them. The ETF then arrived and took over negotiations. Also on scene to advise them was Dr. Peter Collins, the forensic psychiatrist who’s part of the ETF’s negotiation team.

If only Yatim had been given the same time and attention.

The troubled teen, high on drugs, had told the streetcar driver that he wanted to talk to his father. What would have happened if a police officer had actually spoken to him long enough to find that out? And then had given him the opportunity?

That kid would be alive today.

In last month’s case, ETF negotiator Eric Reimer was finally able to establish a rapport and get the man talking. As the day wore on, they worried he was getting increasingly tired and dehydrated from the heat. The consulting psychiatrist was concerned that his ability to make rational decisions might also be deteriorating: He was now threatening to harm himself or the police if they came near him.

It was time to act. But there was a plan: half the team moved towards the bus’s front door; Reimer continued talking to him at the driver’s side. He didn’t know where to concentrate, according to the video, and that offered them an opening. They deployed a Taser, entered the bus and handcuffed him.

“Following the incident, when the person was taken into custody, the spectators — at least 500 people — they cheered the police officers,” Sager said. “They were happy to see the individual was taken into custody without any harm or injury.”

Kudos to all who were on duty that day. If only Yatim had been lucky enough to have these police officers respond that night — and not a cop too quick to draw his gun.

Read Mandel Wednesday through Saturday.

 



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