The prevailing theme of a Vancouver Police Department ceremony held Wednesday to recognize citizens and officers for their courage and diligence was not lost on Police Chief Jim Chu.
More than half of the 21 awards given out Jan. 8 at the Roundhouse Community Centre were related to incidents involving mentally ill people, with some suicidal.
“That’s something that I’ve been talking about all year,” Chu told the Courier after the ceremony. “We’ve been dealing with many critical incidents involving people in a mental health crisis.”
Chu said an officer’s objective is always to peacefully resolve such incidents without using any or minimal force. Many times, the chief added, an officer will put their own safety at risk when confronted with a mentally ill person.
That occurred Sept. 5, 2012 when constables Kyle Nishi and Chad Machuik were called to a downtown rooming house, where a man was slashing his wrists.
The man, who was bleeding heavily, refused to comply with the officers’ commands and continued to cut his wrists. At one point, the man came at the officers with a knife.
It wasn’t until a fourth round from a beanbag shotgun that Nishi and Machuik incapacitated the man enough to take him into custody.
One month later, dozens of police officers responded to the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel downtown where a man armed with a gun intended to die in a confrontation with police.
For 10 hours, the man challenged police, wandering through three floors of the hotel and at times pointing the gun at his own head. Eventually, a stun grenade and a projectile were used to arrest the man, who is now serving a four-year sentence.
In another case in June 2013, acting Sgt. Tyrone Sideroff and Const. Dan Ames responded to a call in Victoria Park of a crazed man armed with two knives who was attacking innocent people.
Despite police drawing their guns, the man refused to drop his remaining knife after one had been taken away from him. The park was crowded with people, including children at the playground. The officers chose not to fire their guns.
Instead, Ames deployed his dog Shack and the officers were able to arrest the man. All officers involved in the three incidents received a chief constable’s commendation.
Last year, Chu and Mayor Gregor Robertson urged the provincial government to address what they described as a mental health crisis in Vancouver.
Health Minister Terry Lake responded to their calls in November, outlining a $20 million plan that included adding psychiatric beds at St. Paul’s Hospital and increasing the number of outreach and community treatment teams.
“It’s a good start and we’ll implement this and see how we’re doing,” said Chu, noting he met with the deputy minister of health before the Christmas break to discuss the plan.
Chu pointed out that citizens have also risked their lives to help others in a mental health crisis, including care worker Wilfredo Fundal. In September 2012, Fundal held onto a suicidal resident dangling from a rooftop at the German Canadian Care Home until police arrived.
“I just prayed to God to give me the energy to save this guy,” said the 57-year-old Fundal, who estimated he held on to the resident for 15 minutes. “I was determined to save him. I just did my part. I didn’t want to see him die.”
Chu presented Fundal with the certificate of merit, the highest award given to citizens for their bravery.
“Often when these incidents happen, it’s citizens who are there when the incident begins and many of them have engaged in courageous acts, putting their own safety on the line to help protect someone else,” the chief said of 14 awards given out to citizens. “We’re just very honoured to be able to recognize them today.”