Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Cop Who Didn't Shoot: How Did Toronto Cop Avoid Killing Van Massacre Perp?

Another lethal vehicle attack, this time in Toronto, Canada's largest city - and where my niece Inge has made her home for the past 35 years.  The incident occurred around lunchtime on one of the Canadian city’s first warm days of the year. Emergency services received several frantic calls about a vehicle that appeared to be striking pedestrians along Yonge Street, one of the city’s main arteries, and on which Inge and Allan (her partner of 35 years) share an apt.

Social media appears to be abuzz and fascinated by the Toronto cop who - faced with a perp who just mowed down twenty five people, killing 10 - didn't fire a kill shot. That was even when we see instagram footage of the perp holding up some implement to threaten the cop, which act would surely have seen his drop from a fusillade of bullets here in the U.S. Call it "death by cop" and indeed the killer perp was begging to be shot in the head and terminated.  (A LinkedIn profile suggested he was studying computer software at a college in Toronto.)

Toronto police caught the suspected driver, Alex Minassian, 25, who is alleged to be responsible for ploughing into people on the crowded city street, leaving 10 dead and 15 injured.  But the ultimate take-down of the suspect, captured on Instagram by a witness just feet  from where the driver had stopped on a footpath, is described by commentators as "the one with the cop - the cop who didn't shoot".  
The typical social media response echoed this one:

"Like this is crazy, this is insane, we've never seen this."

One instagram video begins with a police siren wailing and the Toronto  police officer just 30 feet away, huddled behind a car, gun drawn, yelling.

Suddenly, the van door opened and the perp emerged. A man dressed in black, pointing what appears to be a gun at the officer. The two yell at each other but the sound is muffled by the siren - except for the words "get down".

The driver keeps his weapon pointed, quick-drawing the gun like a gunslinger, as the officer turns the siren off. He keeps yelling, "C'mon get down."

Then, unexpectedly, the driver responds with, "Kill me."

But the Toronto cop refuses to fire.   In the U.S. the perp would have been shot on the spot, as altercation scenes captured over the past year have repeatedly shown.
In a second video, the scene is captured from a window above. As the perp walked towards the officer, arm extended, the officer stays on him, despite the immediate threat. He keeps advancing, until the driver appears to hesitate. His hands go up, he drops what appears to be a gun, and he finally succumbs.   The officer yelled again: "Hands behind your back." He's kneeling on the driver, laying face down on the pavement.

In the most tense 37 seconds, not a single bullet was shot.

President of the Toronto Police Association Mike McCormack praised the officer for his bravery in the face of uncertainty, noting he had come face-to-face with a man who was "making like he has a weapon, threatening the officer's life, trying to get the officer to shoot him".

"The officer would have been doing a continual threat assessment. This officer looked at what was going on and determined he could handle it the way that he did. People are right - this guy is a hero. "

"I am paid to explain things and sound confident doing so. But I honestly don't know what to make of this terrifying, remarkable moment," wrote Scott Gilmore, editor-at-large of Canada's national current affairs and news magazine Maclean's Magazine.
"A man may have just killed many people. He rushed out of his van, which could have been a bomb. He pointed what looked like a weapon. And yet this police officer did not shoot. "

"At any point if the cop had fired and killed the suspect, the public, his peers, the press, even the driver himself, everyone would have understood. In fact, we likely would have called him a hero. "

"What held his finger? Bravery? Training? Compassion? Perhaps we will find out in the days ahead. But whatever it is, it deserves attention."

In fact, the answer can likely be found in another altercation - radically different-  some five years earlier, also in Toronto.  
In this case, Toronto cop James Forcillo  killed a knife-wielding teenager (Sammy Yatim) in the summer of 2013, shooting him eight times on an empty streetcar in the west end of the city.
In January, 2016, Forcillo was found guilty of attempted murder in the death of Yatim.

In the wake of the Forcillo case, Toronto's mayor and police chief vowed to update policies on how police employ deadly force . In the words of Mayor John Tory:
"We must learn and make sure that Sammy Yatim's death, a dark moment for our city, results in real, meaningful change."
Chief of Police Mark Saunders added. "There's an onus on us to make sure we provide our officers with the right training and the right tools."
I believe that is what transpired after the Forcillo case, and Inge is inclined to agree with it. As she put it, after the much publicized shooting of a 23 year old kid by Sacramento, CA cops in his grandmother's yard:
"Our police and officials just made a conscious decision we wanted to be different from the cops in the U.S. - like shoot first, ask questions later. So they impressed on our cops the need to be less prone to reach for the weapon and pull the trigger." 
So it appears the incredible scenes playing out in Toronto yesterday were in large measure due to the new training emphasis, and probably also lots of forbearance on the cop's part.  Let us hope American cops are encouraged to process the lessons of Toronto, in the event they're tempted to shoot first at a presumed perp in their next altercation.
Oh, one more thing: The Canucks aren't ready to hit the 'chicken hysteria switch' just yet and knee jerk call the incident "terrorism".  In the words of Canadian Public safety minister Ralph Goodale:
The events that happened on the streets behind us are horrendous.  But they do not appear to be connected in any way to national security based on the information available at this time.”

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