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Use of force goes up

Police drew weapons more in 2015 than 2014; numbers still lower than in years past

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

The amount of times police used force last year was up from 2014 – but the numbers are still lower than in years past.

According to a report presented to the police services board, there were 238 use of force reports filed among Durham officers in 2015, up from the 211 seen in 2014. While 2015 saw an increase of nearly 13 per cent from the year before, it was still less than the 285 seen in 2011, 277 in 2012 and 296 in 2013.

For a majority of cases, use of force was used to enforce an arrest.

The most common use of force was for an officer to take out their firearm, with 136 reports being filed, followed by 44 for conducted energy weapons, better known as Tasers. The report also finds that police firearms were fired 24 times in 2015, one of which was an accident.

According to Paul Martin, Durham’s chief of police, that accidental firing came during a search of a home for an armed suspect and the gun went off.

“Something has to go into the trigger, whether it’s a finger or something else, but in any event, I know that was investigated by (the Professional Standards Unit) and ultimately, that person was dealt with both through training and through discipline,” Martin says.

Along with the lone accidental gun firing, there were three accidental deployments of tasers. The four total accidental events is an increase in years past, with only one reported incident between 2011 and 2014. Martin attributes the increase, while it is an anomaly, to more officers having weapons than in years past.

“The issue is they’re in more people’s hands,” Martin says, adding that the number of tasers among Durham cops has doubled in the past year.

“One of them appears to be an anomaly as far as static energy built up and it went off. The other two appear to be handler error. We’ll deal with that through training and, if necessary, performance management and, if necessary, discipline.”

Last year, nearly half of the force’s taser deployments took place in Oshawa with 20 – four times that of the year before.

While he wasn’t able to say why the numbers increased, Martin says the large volume of calls police receive from Oshawa could explain why it also sees more taser deployments.

“Generally speaking, year over year, Oshawa will generate between 30 and 40 per cent of the calls we receive in a given year. Mathematically, it’s going to happen. I don’t know the specifics of what in those particular instances, but mathematically that makes sense that it would have the most cases.”

However, while some may look at the report and see hundreds of times the police use force, Martin instead sees the thousands of times where they don’t.

“When you look at the use of force stats, when you look at the encounters we have with the public in any given year, the times we actually apply force on anyone – and that’s any use of force option, including empty hand techniques and control techniques – is less than one per cent,” he tells The Oshawa Express.

“For everybody that we encounter in a given year, and we have hundreds of thousands of encounters, in a quarter of one per cent do we actually have to apply force. I think that’s a good news story from that standpoint, that the encounters that we have are generally positive. We can talk our way through those situations and we have that kind of relationship with the public.”