North Vancouver police shooting of Dani Cooper sparks calls for change
Posted January 13, 2023 11:16 am.
Last Updated January 15, 2023 8:54 am.
Dani Cooper was killed by the North Vancouver RCMP on Nov. 12. Now, Dani’s father is campaigning to push multiple levels of government for changes to the way police respond to mental health crises.
“Their entire approach is militaristic and they bring enforcement to the party — not care,” Dennis Cooper told CityNews.
At that time, the North Vancouver RCMP says it responded to reports of “an individual who allegedly tried to attack another person with a weapon.” Dani died in hospital shortly after they were shot.
However, Dennis says the RCMP could have responded differently to his child.
“It’s untenable to us that they couldn’t have found, that the police, armed with vests and jackets and leather gloves and other means at their disposable, could not have found a way to contain this 90 lb, 5 ft-tall individual with other means,” the father said.
He adds Dani had been diagnosed with a disorder that “meant that they had periods of psychosis where they couldn’t differentiate real[ity] from fantasy.”
Dennis says police are not trained to handle mental health issues. When approached by CityNews for a response, the North Vancouver RCMP said they could not provide comment, noting the province’s police watchdog, the Independent Investigations Office (IIO), has taken over the case.
Dennis believes his child, who was 27 years old at the time of their death, wouldn’t want the officer responsible for pulling the trigger to be punished. Rather, he says Dani would have wanted change in the system.
That is what he is now advocating for. Dennis is now working with a public letter campaign that calls on the premier, the mayor of North Vancouver, local MLAs, and the IIO to change the policing approach when it comes to de-escalating mental health crises.
He says he wants the RCMP to be held accountable for his child’s death, along with more resources.
“Reallocating funding correctly to healthcare professionals to be brought to the correct situations. Police are the wrong tool for the job,” he said.
Meenakshi Mannoe with Pivot Legal Society agrees that the process for police responding to mental health crises needs to change.
“An intervention is better suited to someone with lived experience or a healthcare worker who understands mental health issues, who understands de-escalation, who also understands intersections like queerness, using illicit substances, trauma, racism, colonialism, and these are all intersections that police actually exacerbate,” she explained.
Dennis says Dani used their voice to advocate for marginalized groups, especially those experiencing homelessness and those struggling with mental health issues.
“[Dani] had a personal campaign to remove police from mental health situations in particular,” he said. “It was truly ironic that they were intervened in such a violent way by the police — it was exactly the cause they were campaigning for.”
Questions remain as to why lethal force was used on Dani. The IIO could not provide more information at this time on the case.
“Unfortunately, an investigation into a matter such as this takes a lot of time,” said Ron MacDonald, chief civilian officer, IIO, who adds they are seeing more cases like this.
“In this fiscal year, we have had 23 officer-involved shooting cases, when the normal or the average number is seven.”
MacDonald admits with the rise in cases, it’s been a struggle for investigators to keep up.
“Our current challenges are that our caseload has increased in the last three to four years by almost double,” he explained.
For now, Dani’s father will have to wait for answers. In the meantime, he says he’ll continue to push for change.
“I will grant that the police officers were not properly trained properly to be able to deal with those situations,” he said. “Bringing mental healthcare professionals and having the police strategically positioned nearby and around the corner is a much less aggressive stance and a much less confrontational stance.”
Correction: An original version of this story incorrectly stated Dani Cooper was killed by police during a “wellness check.” We have corrected the story, as the RCMP says officers responded to reports of an “individual who allegedly tried to attack another person with a weapon.”