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Bill Blair on Sammy Yatim: “I Recognize That There is a Need for Answers”

Police chief expresses his condolences, but says he cannot answer any questions as the Special Investigation Unit looks into the shooting.

This morning Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair addressed Friday night’s shooting by police of an 18-year-old man, Sammy Yatim, after a confrontation with him as he pulled out a knife on the Dundas streetcar. The full video of Blair’s remarks is above; a transcript follows below…

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

As you are all aware, late last Friday evening members of the Toronto Police Service responded to a radio call in the area of Dundas Street West and Bellwoods Avenue. Shortly thereafter a young man was killed.

The scene was secured and the Special Investigations Unit was immediately notified. The Special Investigations Unit has invoked their mandate to conduct an investigation and members of the Toronto Police Service will fully cooperate with the SIU in the conduct of their investigation.

I would like to begin my remarks by expressing my very sincere condolences to the family and friends of the young man that was killed. I have morning asked Deputy Chief Mike Federico to reach out to the family of the deceased to express our condolences and sympathy, and to offer whatever support that we are able to provide. As a father I can only imagine their terrible grief and their need for answers. We will commit to doing our best to ensure that those answers are provided.

I would also like to speak to some of the concerns that have been raised with respect to this incident. Like many members of the public I have viewed the video of this incident. I am aware of the very serious concerns that the public has. I know that people are seeking answers to what occurred, why it happened, and if anything could have been done to prevent the tragic death of this young man. I am also seeking answers to those important questions.

I want to assure all of the citizens of Toronto of our unwavering commitment to get the answers that they seek. The Special Investigations Unit has invoked its mandate. Their investigation must take priority over all other inquiries. I am prevented by law from disclosing any information related to the incident or the investigation. This regulation is aimed at maintaining the integrity of the investigation and I intend to uphold it. We will cooperate fully with the SIU investigation.

In addition the law states that the Chief of Police must cause an investigation to be conducted forthwith into this incident, subject to the SIU’s lead role in investigating the matter. The purpose of the Chief’s investigation is to review the policies, procedures, and training of the service, and to determine if those policies, procedures, and training were followed. A thorough investigation into the conduct of all members of the service involved in this incident will be conducted. A full report of my review, actions, and recommendations will be submitted to the Toronto Police Services Board within 30 days of being notified that the SIU has reported the results of their investigation to the attorney general. That too is the law.

I am very aware that the public is very concerned about this tragic event. They have every right to be concerned. I recognize that there is a need for answers and that the public quite rightfully expects that the matter will be thoroughly investigated. I want to assure you all that this will be done. The public also has a right to demand that the Toronto Police Service examine the conduct of its officers and to ensure that the training and procedures were both appropriate and followed. This will be done. Addressing the concerns of the public and the deceased young man’s family is our highest priority. We will act as quickly as circumstances and the law allow.

I regret that I am unable to answer any of your questions—the law is rather specific with respect to that as well—however a copy of my remarks will be available on the Service’s website.

Thank you all very much.

A vigil is planned for Sammy Yatim for Yonge-Dundas Square tonight at 5 p.m., to be followed by a march across Dundas Street to the site of the shooting.

Comments

  • OgtheDim

    How many days until the cop union comes out with the “Don’t escalate things by video taping incidents like this. You are not helping.” line?

    • https://paul.kishimoto.name/ Paul Kishimoto

      Per this (http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/07/28/freedom_to_photograph_under_threat.html ) very good editorial from a PEN Canada member, we should credit Martin Baron for recording and sharing his video of the killing, despite the expectation that he would have been harassed by police had they noticed his entirely legal actions.

      Without his having done so, I doubt Bill Blair would have needed to give this statement.

  • Tuffyrocks

    I wonder how many days it will take the SIU to clear every cop of any wrong doing?

    8 Cops, 9 Bullets, and a Tazer to take down a skinny 18 year old with a knife.

    • rich1299

      Turns out there are 22 witness cops and 1 subject cop in the SIU investigation not just 8. I have no doubt the SIU will clear this cop of any wrongdoing, after all that’s what the SIU is for, to pardon cops for their excessive use of force even when they kill people. I find it unbelievable they felt they had to tazer him even after shooting him 9 times.

      • ian21012

        they didnt shoot him 9 times he discharged his weapon 9 times, not the same thing. you dont know how many times he was shot

        • kEiThZ

          SIU confirms multiple gunshot wounds. Suspect was downed after first 3 shots in the video.
          I would argue the 6 that followed warrant a second-degree murder investigation.

  • Marc

    Suspended with pay, I assume?

    • rich1299

      Yup

  • Derek

    few too many bullets? Probably.
    one or two to the leg to subdue him would have likely been enough.

    but the kid also should have shut his mouth from the get go.

    • John G. Young

      Oh, right, mouthing off at the cops — then of course he deserved to be shot dead.

    • OgtheDim

      So what you are saying is that getting lippy with the cops means you should be shot?
      Hope you don’t meet any cops under your troll bridge Derek.

      • Derek

        kid was clearly out to lunch.

        yes, agreed cops went mildly overboard, no one doubts that.

        either way though you get a perp down and out as soon as you can.

        this wasn’t a jumper, or someone who need to be negotiated with.

        he was a knife wielding maniac that needed to be taken down.

        • HotDang

          Good thing all those gun wielding maniacs were on hand.

        • vampchick21

          Mildly? I’d hate to see your definition of out of control. And I wouldn’t use the word maniac in regards to this situation either. Maybe you need to pick up a dictionary to help you understand words?

        • John G. Young

          “Mildly overboard”.
          I’m interested to know — what in your opinion would constitute “way overboard”?

        • OgtheDim

          “perp”

          You watch far too many cop shows under that troll bridge.

    • Caroline

      If the kid is in a state of distress that kind of logic wouldn’t come to him. They didn’t even ATTEMPT to talk to him to find out what was happening, they just yelled at him too drop the knife and shot at him NINE TIMES. I am absolutely NOT condoning him wielding a knife in a busy streetcar, but at least try and talk him down off the proverbial ledge before you bring the guns out. Maybe try and help him???

      • vampchick21

        It’s been long said that police need better training with regards to situations with those who have a clear mental illness, and I suspect that such training would help prevent situations such as the one that happened here. I doubt the young man was insane, but clearly he was having some issue(s) that resulted in his actions. The reaction was over the top and the officers would have likely handled it much better (i.e. the kid would still be alive) if they had better training and understanding in that regard. A person doesn’t have to have a diagnosed mental illness to have a breakdown.

        • rich1299

          De-escalation would also work better with a lot of people even if they’re not mentally ill or having a break down. A lot of perfectly healthy people will become more aggressive when faced with aggression towards them by cops. There are certain situations where such aggression by cops may be warranted but from the video its clear this was not one of those situations. Cops are highly paid and trained to deal with some very unpleasant people and situations, its part of their job. If a cop cannot think clearly when under stress and when their adrenaline is pumping they should find themselves another line of work.

    • andrew97

      In the military — I assume the cops are the same — you are always taught to shoot for the centre of mass. A few reasons for this: it’s easy to miss a “disabling shot” to a small target like the legs; a wounded man full of adrenaline won’t be as disabled as you would think; and once you decide to use a firearm, you are deciding to use lethal force, so don’t pretend otherwise.

      • John G. Young

        “In the military — I assume the cops are the same…”
        So a civilian population and a war zone are “the same”?
        Perhaps you should look at your assumptions.

        • andrew97

          Since we’re talking about marksmanship on a human target, which is one of only very few points of commonality between the police and military, then yes, they probably take the same approach. But hey, thanks for deliberately misunderstanding what I wrote!

          • John G. Young

            You’re welcome. Thank YOU for ignoring the context of the situation and reducing complex situations to one variable. Is that an essential part of military training? It certainly appears to be for the police.

          • vampchick21

            I think he’s just explaining the rational for aiming at the body and not the kneecap. You read other things in there.

          • John G. Young

            Perhaps so. However, Andrew97 has stated repeatedly that he is not familiar with the training of the police with regard to use of firearms; I was challenging his stated assumption that it was the same as military training, given that civilian and combat populations are entirely different.

          • vampchick21

            One would assume that training to shoot would be the same. At any rate, it’s that a rather pointless thing to focus on? Especially given everything else in this situation?

          • John G. Young

            Not pointless at all vampchick, because the intent of training is to inform behaviour: if police are trained to react as if they are in a war zone rather than in a city, then it’s easy to see how something like what happened, happened.

          • vampchick21

            In the case of police, it’s not how they are trained to shoot in a dangerous situation so much as how they are trained to handle situations where there appears to be a mental health issue (on-going or one-off) that is the real point of discussion and the real issue. I don’t give a rats ass where they are trained to point the gun at, I care if they are properly trained to recognize certain signs in a suspect in order to better handle a situation. Surely one can tell the difference between a prick acting like a douchebag and someone having a breakdown or episode.

          • John G. Young

            If the police receive little or no training in how to handle mental health situations, they will resort to their basic training; and if that basic training encourages a combative, war-zone mindset, then they will be more likely to shoot. I think we’re arguing the same point.

          • vampchick21

            And if you have a gun and need or feel the need to shoot someone you feel is threatening your life, where do you aim? And be honest. Cause you’re damn right I’m aiming at the biggest part. Do you see the point in the original statement in this pointless roundabout? I suggest we now leave this mindbogglingly irritating part of the comments and go to another discussion within.

          • John G. Young

            I have never been interested in, or engaged in, the discussion about what part of the body to shoot at, because I think it’s a ridiculous discussion. Please do take your condescending attitude elsewhere.

          • vampchick21

            Then you totally miss my point. Brava! But then, you’re so much better than everyone else here!

          • John G. Young

            I don’t feel that I’m better than anyone, here or anywhere else. You know nothing about me. Stop projecting.

          • andrew97

            I’m telling you the way cops are (probably) trained in this situation, I’m passing no judgment on whether this is the right thing to do or not. We’re talking about the fraction of a second between deciding to use your firearm, and discharging it, while under stress. We’re not talking about a situation — again, AFTER you have decided to fire your weapon — in which there is a lot of time for context or judgment. In this circumstance, your reflexes, honed by training, are what you use.

            But I’d like to hear how context and judgment should affect the cop’s aim point, in your opinion, bearing in mind that if a cop thinks he can disable a suspect without killing him, firearm use is much more likely.

          • John G. Young

            You’ve already stated that you do not know how cops are trained, that you are extrapolating from your knowledge of how the military are trained.
            Once again, I am asserting that the contexts — civilized society versus combat zone — are not comparable. Do you think they are?
            My concern is that some city cops also see the two situations as equivalent, and that mindset may lead them to act as if they are at war, which I think is a possible explanation for what happened to Sammy Yatim.
            As for where the gun is to be pointed, I have never
            been a part of that discussion; and as for “we’re talking about a fraction of a second”… have you actually seen the video?

          • andrew97

            Not clear why I’m being criticized for assuming cops and soldiers are trained the same way, by a guy who is worried that cops and soldiers are too much the same. Anyway, this has been pointless. Good day.

          • John G. Young

            Your comment certainly explains why this has been pointless.

        • kEiThZ

          Actually, those of us in the military have far more restraint.

          Im in the CF. None of the guys in my shop thought the shooting was in anyway justified. All of us think the cop should be charged.

      • kEiThZ

        In the military we are also taught to pursue a controlled escalation of force in accordance with the rules of engagement.
        I see no evidence of discipline in this video.

        • OgtheDim

          One of the differences is CF know they are in lethal danger and that is why they are there; rules of engagement are used to minimise risk and get the job done.

          Cops rarely are in lethal danger but their rules of engagement allow them to use lethal force if they feel threatened. They do not have to deescalate. Most do. This guy obviously didn’t.

          • kEiThZ

            Actually, consider a place like Afghanistan. A lot of what the soldiers do there is basically law and order stuff. A lot of nation-building is.

            And restraint is far more important in that environment. Shoot up the place and you will quickly turn the population against you. When you’re severely outnumbered, that’s not a fight you can win.

            Seems to me that police officers in Ontario do have a rather rudimentary escalation of force matrix. Doesn’t seem to me that it was applied properly in this situation. Either the cop panicked or there are issues with how escalation of force is trained.

  • rytong

    Apparently the training these guys get is wholly inadequate.

    For what they’re being paid, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect better.

    • OgtheDim

      To me, blaming inadequate training absolves the individual cops from their behaviour. Others are saying the training is adequate; but, cops don’t use the training when fear kicks in because they know they ultimately have an out with a person holding a weapon.

      • Marc

        Could it be that half of them are from outside of the City of Toronto have no real sense of community or accountability for the after-effects of such an incident in our communities?

        • OgtheDim

          When confronted with a weapon, cops are not thinking about what the community would want. Most of them were probably trying to think amidst the adrenaline. Which, in other cities, they handle better then this, and with the training. To me, the question here is leadership.

          • rich1299

            I’m not so sure, I think if more Toronto cops actually lived in Toronto they’d have a better sense of the people and who’s a risk and who isn’t. When I first moved here from a small city it took me some time to become “street smart” to be able to tell someone who may look or behave oddly from someone who may be an actual danger to me. When cops live in the sanitized suburbs and only come to Toronto to work with unpleasant people in unpleasant situations I could believe they’d be more likely to see things as more threatening than they actually are.

            But really who knows?

            I’d imagine it different for different cops but still I do think more Toronto cops should be actually be living in Toronto than currently do. A sense of connection to a community can make a difference in some cases I’m sure.

      • rich1299

        I agree but any cop who cannot think clearly under pressure or when adrenaline is pumping needs to be in another line of work. It also doesn’t help that the SIU is toothless and they know they’ll face no more serious consequences than a paid leave off work.

  • Bubba

    Wonder if we’ll ever get to see the video from the on board TTC cameras?

    • OgtheDim

      No way…far too graphic. The coroner’s inquest will see it, as will any criminal or civil trial, assuming one happens. Any internal police charges will probably have that not included as prejudicial.

      • omouse

        WTF is the point of having the cameras then? I don’t understand how taxpayers get to foot the bill but not see the footage that we pay for.

        • OgtheDim

          It might surprise you to know, but you do not have the right to watch a snuff film.

        • rich1299

          Those cameras are for security not public “entertainment”. Besides what difference will it make seeing the bullets actually enter his body?

  • OgtheDim

    On another note, how the heck did they allow a taxi to go behind a streetcar when guns were pointed that way!?!?!

    Cowboys.

    • rich1299

      I thought the same thing, they were pointing guns in the direction of passers by, not good.

  • Sousedbergin

    Why bother having pepper spray or tasers if a 110 lbs teenager with a 3 inch knife who is only a threat to himself needs to be gunned down? The streetcar can be locked from the outside and a special unit can be called to handle these situations.

    If you think you need to use a gun to subdue this kid (or think the situation warranted being pushed to immediate conclusion) perhaps you should have become an accountant.

    To those who say he should have complied (thanks tips) Oscar Grant III did and he was executed on the spot.

    • rob120

      id like to see how you do against a 110lb guy with a knife, a knife is much more deadly than you give it credit

      • Sousedbergin

        Given a kevalr vest and 8 trained colleagues with pepper spray, clubs and/or tasers and that the my “combantant” never made an aggressive move towards me I’d feel safer than when I went to those $2 Blue Jays games.

      • kEiThZ

        I’m 195lbs. Slightly chubby. I’d readily take the challenge. But then again, those us in the military are far more disciplined and braver than the TPS.

  • dsmithhfx

    The Toronto Police have proven over and over they cannot handle the responsibility of being armed with guns. Time to take the guns away from beat cops. Let them have tasers, pepper spray and batons. If they can’t work with that, let them find another line of work.

  • OgtheDim

    I think the cop was part of the crisis escalation spiral himself. Possibly first time he’s drawn his gun in 6 years. You would think with all the cops there that someone would have suggested a time out to think about this. Not all cops are this incompetent – its just when one is, somebody can get hurt.

  • http://www.leschinskidesign.com/contact/addme picard102

    It’s easy to assume someone wants to shoot someone. But suggesting such a thing says more about the person saying it, then the person they are accusing.

  • OgtheDim

    That’s Worf’s job.

  • HotDang

    Picard would never do anything that Picard102 advocates.

  • dsmithhfx

    It seems more likely that one cop lost it and gratuitously emptied his clip into some distraught teen who, while exhibiting threatening behavior, hadn’t actually hurt anyone. I can only imagine the wtf moment of the other cops. This is bad for all concerned, and that cop’s career should deffo be over. But this is hardly the first instance of grotesquely disproportionate application of force by the TPS. Let’s just make sure it’s the last. Generally speaking, beat cops do not need to be carrying guns. End of story.

  • OgtheDim

    “There could of been injured people in there that needed help and this punk wouldn’t drop the knife so he gets a dirt nap”

    Well except the video clearly show you there isn’t.

  • kEiThZ

    I’m in the CF. The guys in my shop (with combat experience to boot) couldn’t believe the video. We were appalled.

    Our 19-year old reservists have more discipline and restraint than that police officer. They will even withold fire while being fired upon if ordered to do so. And they carry heavier weapons and get paid a lot less.

    There is no reason I see why this situation couldn’t have been resolved peacefully. Heads should roll for this. And I fully expect charges for the shooter.

    • OgtheDim

      Would it be fair to say that In the CF, leadership, in theory, can take a fall themselves if their subordinates do something stupid? I’m darn sure nobody but this cop will receive discipline for this event. Which is part of the issue with TPS – leadership has no responsibility for the behaviour of its subordinates beyond PR and hitting job targets (of a non-lethal type like amount of tickets etc.)

      • kEiThZ

        Of course. As an officer, I most certainly I am liable for the actions of my troops. And I am expected to take all reasonable legal measures to ensure their discipline and good conduct.

        Indeed, troops getting charged and summary trials inside the unit are actually a part of unit military life. Happens very regularly (weekly basis) in the CF. Treating small infractions seriously, prevents larger ones down the road.

  • nevilleross

    I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; we need five years of training for cops, not what we have now. In fact, we need this:

    Education is highly stressed in police recruitment and promotion. Entrance to the force is determined by examinations administered by each prefecture. Examinees are divided into two groups: upper-secondary-school graduates and university graduates. Recruits underwent rigorous training—one year for upper-secondary school graduates and six months for university graduates—at the residential police academy attached to the prefectural headquarters. On completion of basic training, most police officers are assigned to local police boxes called Kobans. Promotion is achieved by examination and requires further course work. In-service training provides mandatory continuing education in more than 100 fields. Police officers with upper-secondary school diplomas are eligible to take the examination for sergeant after three years of on-the-job experience. University graduates can take the examination after only one year. University graduates are also eligible to take the examination for assistant police inspector, police inspector, and superintendent after shorter periods than upper-secondary school graduates. There are usually five to fifteen examinees for each opening.

    About fifteen officers per year pass advanced civil service examinations and are admitted as senior officers. Officers are groomed for administrative positions, and, although some rise through the ranks to become senior administrators, most such positions are held by specially recruited senior executives.

    The police forces are subject to external oversight. Although officials of the National Public Safety Commission generally defer to police decisions and rarely exercise their powers to check police actions or operations, police are liable for civil and criminal prosecution, and the media actively publicizes police misdeeds. The Human Rights Bureau of the Ministry of Justice solicits and investigates complaints against public officials, including police, and prefectural legislatures could summon police chiefs for questioning. Social sanctions and peer pressure also constrain police behavior. As in other occupational groups in Japan, police officers develop an allegiance to their own group and a reluctance to offend its principles.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_enforcement_in_Japan#Conditions_of_service

    The longer we wait in doing this for cops in Toronto and other cities, the more victims like Sammy there will be.