By Trevor Busch
Use of force incidents remained low for Taber Police Service officers in 2017, a year which also saw the implementation of a less-than-lethal munitions program involving shotguns that fire sock rounds.
In 2017, the TPS saw a total of 15 reports, which included single member incidents (3), multiple member incidents (12), and one destruction of an animal report. Previous Years: 2012 (18), 2013 (17), 2014 (14), 2015 (21), 2016 (19).
“The number of reports for 2017 is fairly consistent with previous years,” reads a statement in Sr. Cst. Tim Johnson’s report, which was presented to the Taber Municipal Police Commission for review at their Feb. 21 meeting. “It appears that five of the reports in 2017 were linked to other control tactics reports associated with the same incident.”
The TPS is accountable to the commission, and the community, for the application of force. Proper reporting of the application of force is an “important element in democratic policing and provides for police legitimacy.” The report is also submitted to Solicitor General Kathleen Ganley (director of law enforcement) and is utilized provincially to determine if there are training gaps, best practices or changes that need to be made to the reasonable officer response model.
“There’s a 0.003 per cent chance of being involved in a use of force incident with a Taber Police Service officer in a violator context,” said TPS chief Graham Abela. “That’s fairly consistent with last year.”
When questioned by Coun. Joe Strojwas (who serves as one of two town council representatives to the commission) as to how this statistic compares to other communities’ enforcement efforts, Abela gave a reply based on anecdotal evidence.
“Our officers are extremely well trained, and carry themselves extremely well with the public, and the way that they interact with the public is kinder and gentler. We’ll only resort to force when necessary. We also have a tremendous amount of public compliance here, there’s a lot of trust in the police, so when we have interactions with people, there’s not that animosity, that fear, in dealing with us. As a result, I think all of those factors combine to make our use of force incidents very low, and we have a very safe community.”
Force Occurred When: Initial contact (3), placing under arrest (9), transporting (2). Officer Response Effective: Verbal direction (3), control instruments (3), empty hand – soft (7), Taser-CEW displayed only (1).
“Control instruments, verbal direction and soft hand techniques were the most effective force used in 2017, which is consistent with the use of force in 2016,” states Johnson in his report. “The greatest decrease was hard empty hand techniques and aiming the laser on a CEW (conducted energy weapon) when compared to 2016, where each had five reports of effectiveness.”
Officer Response Ineffective: Verbal direction (7), empty hand – soft (1), Taser-CEW fired (1). Firearm/Lethal Force Effective: Pistol – low ready (2), pistol – pointed (1), pistol – fired animal (1), carbine – low ready (4). Subject Actions/Description: Cooperative subject (3), low level resister (2), high level resister (2), assaultive (3). Injury to Subject: No visible injury (10), minor injury not requiring treatment (3). Injury to Officer: No visible injury (14), minor injury not requiring treatment (1). Injury to Bystander: No visible injury (9).
“Subjects perceived as being assaultive has decreased from seven in 2016. Subjects perceived as being a high level resister has also decreased from six in 2016,” states Johnson in his report.
“We didn’t shoot anybody last year, thank heaven,” said Johnson.
Information regarding the individual identity of various officers involved in use of force incidents throughout 2017 was redacted by the TPS, but it did reveal that five different officers had been involved in single incidents, while three other officers had been involved in two, three and five separate incidents during the year.
“I believe that overall in 2017 our members used force appropriately and show that they are effective when the use of force is effective,” concludes Johnson in his report. “At the same time, based on the low amount of injuries to subjects, the use of force appears to be on the lower end of the spectrum.”
Training remained a focus for the service in 2017, with officers traveling to Havre, Mont. to take advantage of an opportunity to train on a VirTra V-300 Firearms Training Simulator, which is unique compared to other simulators as it employs five screens creating a 300-degree immersive training environment.
Last year also saw the implementation of a Less Than Lethal Munitions Program consisting of shotguns equipped with a CTS Super Sock round available in each patrol vehicle. The program benefits the membership by allowing safer distances to be maintained while using a less-than-lethal use of force option.
All members participated in and passed training for using the weapons, which was hosted by the Lethbridge Police Service.
When questioned about the source or motivation for many of the incidents involving use of force for members in 2017, Johnson didn’t hesitate to lay much of the blame on alcohol consumption or abuse.
“Alcohol. I have too many incidents that I deal with — as far as use of force goes — that involve alcohol, or some other intoxicant. Or there’s some mental health things, too. People that are under normal circumstances don’t usually have force used on them. Usually they have some kind of mental imbalance or issue, or they’re intoxicated by some substance.”
Following discussion, the commission voted unanimously to accept as information the Taber Police Service’s Use of Force Report and the Use of Force Training Review 2017.
The annual report is a requirement to meet Alberta Policing Standards.