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Watch the 'warrior mindset' training video shown to James Forcillo

The 2010 video features experts that say 'complacency kills' and advocate the 'sheepdog philosophy.'

Toronto police Const. James Forcillo arrives at court for the prosecution's closing arguments in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim, in Toronto, on Thursday, January 6, 2016.


Toronto police Const. James Forcillo arrives at court for the prosecution's closing arguments in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim, in Toronto, on Thursday, January 6, 2016.

A police training video shown at the James Forcillo trial teaches officers to adopt a “warrior mindset” that even the law enforcement group that made the video calls “unhealthy.”

Forcillo’s lawyers introduced Training to Succeed, created in 2010 by the Ontario Police Training Video Association, as evidence during his two-month trial in the shooting death of Sammy Yatim. 

The video is an account of two police officers stabbed in Barrie. Over ominous music, officers and third-party experts hammer home the message that police must adopt a mindset that considers everyone a potential lethal threat.

It’s the kind of rhetoric that lawyer Seth Stoughton, a former Tallahassee police officer, says leads to the overuse of lethal force.

Officers “are told that fear, vigilance — not just vigilance, hyper vigilance — is necessary for their survival,” he said.

How Forcillo was trained and how that influenced what he was thinking when he shot Yatim repeatedly as he wielded a knife on an empty streetcar is a key question being considered by the jury at his murder trial. Jurors began deliberations Wednesday.

Overall, the threat posed by a knife-wielding suspect is exaggerated in modern police training, Stoughton said.

Eight police officers have been fatally stabbed since confederation, in 1867, according to the Officer Down Memorial’s database of police fatalities. Officers are more than twice as likely to die in a plane crash, 10 times more likely to be killed by a vehicle and 20 times more likely to die in an automobile accident, according to the database.

The Ontario Police Video Training Alliance has moved away from the “warrior mindset” messaging in more recent videos, choosing to focus instead on things like work-life balance and mental health of first responders, said executive director Jamie Saunders.

“Police officers, from the first day on the job, are training to view the world from a threat-based assessment,” he said. “You can see how that mindset probably isn’t the healthiest when it comes to everyday interactions.

“I think the trend, certainly now and over the last couple of years, has been on disengaging and backing off on the confrontation.”

Retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

Video screengrab

Retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

The ‘sheepdog philosphy’

Training to Succeed features an interview with retired Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, who runs the Killology research group, a U.S. police training consultant.

In the video, he talks about his “sheepdog philosophy,” which divides people into three categories: Normal citizens who are gentle and naïve sheep, criminals who are violent wolves and police officers who are sheepdogs and must protect the sheep from the wolves.

Based on the philosophy, Grossman urges officers not to leave home without guns and advocates for putting armed police officers in public schools.

Saunders said he doesn’t personally agree with all of Grossman’s teachings. But, he was included in the video because he has “a huge, huge following” in Ontario police ranks and is a dynamic, inspirational live speaker.

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