A new program is helping police officers on Manitoulin Island respond to people who are in crisis.
Det. Sgt. Todd Fox, with the United Chiefs and Councils of Manitoulin (UCCM) Anishnaabe Police Service, took a five-day crisis intervention course in September, which he said has made him a better police officer.
“It has brought a better understanding to comprehend the underlying factors that are associated with people that start to get into crisis or find themselves in a crisis situation,” Fox said.
Fox, who has been a police officer for 15 years, said the five-day course was more thorough than any previous training he has gotten on crisis intervention.
He said police officers get many hours of training on how to use their firearms, but crisis intervention training is brief in comparison.
“Most officers don’t seem to be encountering that situation where they’ll have to use lethal force with a firearm,” he said.
“However, that being said, on the contrast, officers are constantly responding to people in crisis and helping them.”
Fox said that in his own career he has never had to unholster his firearm and point it at someone. But he could not count on his hands the number of times he has responded to someone in crisis.
A Texas-based company called SolutionPoint+ taught the course. Fox said it taught officers to stick to the “80-20 rule”, where they spend most of their time listening to a person in crisis and let them do 80 per cent of the talking.
Through active listening officers can then direct the person to services that can help them. In a lot of cases, those are mental health services.
People that are prone to a crisis, they’re typically battling some type of mental illness,” Fox said.
The five-day course is one component of the Lighting the Fire Within program, which aims to address domestic violence in the region.
Taylor Sayers, the UCCM Anishnaabe Police Service’s director of corporate services, said the other components include an early intervention program called N’Debwewin and a school-based program, where officers build healthy relationships with local children.
Sayers said the school program included a hockey skills camp where officers connected with students through sport.
“It’s really about building trust between police and the community and with the children in the school system,” she said.
Sayers said Lighting the Fire Within also has a cultural component, which helps officers understand the effect intergenerational trauma can have on them and people in the community.
“When you look at just the historical context of why police were created in Indigenous communities, you really can see that there could be, you know, mistrust that was developed over time,” Sayers said.
“It’s within our context to understand that and to effectively respond in an appropriate way with the individuals that our police officers are interacting with.”
Sayers said the police service’s goal is for all officers to complete the Lighting the Fire Within program, which includes the crisis response course.
But while some officers might not be able to participate in certain courses, Sayers said the same themes will come up again throughout the program.