Video to train police on seizure disorders

March 29, 2012

Police officer with epilepsy helping create video to ensure unfortunate incident never happens again
Deron Hamel

Ottawa Police Service (OPS) officer Marcel Allen and the OPS Professional Development Centre are developing a training video about seizure disorders to educate law enforcement officials to help ensure an incident that happened to Allen a year and a half ago never happens to anyone else.

Once the OPS Professional Development Centre has completed the video, it will be considered for the Canadian Police Knowledge Network, a website providing training resources for Canadian police.

On Aug. 8, 2010, Allen, who has epilepsy, was off duty and driving his children to their home in Pembroke, Ont. While sitting in traffic in front of Parliament Hill he went into seizure. As Allen was coming out of seizure, a nearby RCMP officer responded, followed by Allen’s OPS colleagues.

While in what Allen describes as a “fight or flight” postictal state he struggled with officers, resulting in him being Tasered by an OPS colleague.

“Their reaction in trying to help me was probably the worst reaction that they could have had,” says Allen. “When I realized that, I thought, OK, something has to be done.”

And what had to be done, Allen says, was channel the frustration he had from this incident into something positive, and the best way to accomplish this was by educating law enforcement about seizure disorders.

The video Allen and the OPS Professional Development Centre are working on will educate law enforcement officials about what to do and what not to do to assist a person who is having a seizure.

Included in the video will be education on how police addressing individuals with a seizure disorders need to be cognizant of keeping their distance, the tone they take when speaking, and understand that a person in a postictal state cannot comprehend verbal direction.

The video will also address the fact that a person with postictal behaviours, to the untrained eye, may appear to be under the influence of controlled substances or have a mental illness.

This misunderstanding has resulted in police taking people with seizure disorders to mental-health facilities, notes Allen.

“An officer has to understand and realize this,” says Allen. “If a person is having a tonic-clonic seizure, if the person is convulsing in any way . . . they need medical attention.”

Allen has received a lot of support and encouragement from his colleagues, including the officer who Tasered him that day. The officer in the incident has even offered to appear in the video to explain his reaction.

“He called me . . . and said ‘yeah, I have no problem being a part of that video,’ ” Allen explains.

Aside from providing police training, Allen says he has another important reason for making the video.

“I want to leave a legacy for my children,” he says. “Hopefully, this is something they’ll look back on that their father did.”

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