By Trevor Busch
Use of force by law enforcement is on the low end of tactics employed by the Taber Police Service on an annual basis, concludes a report submitted to the Taber Municipal Police Commission.
According to TPS statistics, in 2016 officers made 306 arrests which resulted in individuals being booked into town cells. Control Tactics Reports totalled 19 on the year, down from 21 in 2015.
“When you look at the number of actual occurrences that we deal with throughout the year, which is about 5,000, we would have much more contacts with people — more than 5,000 — that just shows how many different files that we deal with,” said Cst. Tim Johnson, a use of force instructor with the TPS, speaking at the police commission’s March 16 regular meeting. “Last year we ended up arresting just over 300. Out of those people arrested, there were only about 19 control tactics reports.”
For 2017, the Taber Police Service policy is being changed, requiring members to report use of force when the following occurs: a member uses force other than co-operative handcuffing and escort techniques; a member uses any force ending in injury to the officer, subject or bystander; a member displays a firearm or conducted energy weapon that would have been observed by the subject or bystander; or a member intentionally or unintentionally discharges a firearm or conducted energy weapon.
When a member uses force, various considerations come into play, including if the officer was lawfully placed, if the officer subjectively believed that the amount of force used was reasonable, and if an “objective reasonable person” believes that the level of force was reasonable.
TPS reported force was used during initial contact (6), verbally restraining (2), physically restraining (2), placing under arrest (10), handcuffing (5) and transporting (2). It was noted that although the total is higher than the total number of events, this is not unusual as use of force can, “continue from one spectrum into the next.”
Over the course of the year, officers used force while on patrol (18) and while in the cell block (2).
Effective officer response included verbal direction (5), holding technique (3), control instruments (2), empty hand – soft (6), empty hand – hard (5), displayed only (2) and laser aimed only (5). Ineffective officer response included verbal direction (13), holding technique (2) and empty hand – soft (3).
“So we’re dealing with a lot of people, a lot of different situations, different emotions, different circumstances, and we only had about 19 reports, and out of those, three were doubled up where two members made the same report in dealing with the same person,” said Johnson.
Only one incident occurred in which an officer felt they might need to use their firearm, in which a pistol was pointed.
Measuring the level of resistance from various subjects, individuals were labeled as a co-operative subject (5), low-level resister (1), high-level resister (6) and ‘assaultive’ (7).
No visible injury to the subject was sustained in 15 incidents, while minor injury not requiring treatment was sustained in four incidents. For officers, no visible injury was sustained in 18 incidents, with one sustaining minor injury not requiring treatment.
“Even though we did use force in those 19 times, as far as injuries goes, it was very minor,” said Johnson. “Fifteen had no injuries, and four had just minor injuries. That shows me, as a use of force instructor, that the techniques that we have are for the most part effective, and aren’t causing unnecessary injury to people.”
The conclusion reached in the report indicated that, “overall in 2016 our members used force appropriately and show that they are effective when use of force is required. At the same time, based on the low amount of injuries to subjects, the use of force techniques used by members appear to present a low risk of injury to the subjects involved”.