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Police: rise in weapons complaints an unwelcome trend

Officers used force more often in 2016 compared to a year earlier
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While it's too early to say anything definitive, Greater Sudbury Police say are concerned about a jump in the number of weapons complaints they responded to in 2016. File photo.

While it's too early to say anything definitive, Greater Sudbury Police say are concerned about a jump in the number of weapons complaints they responded to in 2016.

The force's annual use of force report was unveiled at Wednesday's police services board meeting. During 2016, a total of 147 the reports were submitted regarding 108 incidents. In 2015, a total of 129 reports were recorded involving 93 incidents. 

“There were 18 more reports and 17 more incidents in 2016 compared to 2015,” the report said, adding that the data reflects the number of reports submitted, and not the number of incidents, since there are often multiple reports submitted for a single incident. 

There were nine more weapons calls in 2016, rising from 17 to 26.

"What we see is more use of force by our officers, but we also see trends like more responses to firearms and replica firearms,” said Chief Paul Pedersen Wednesday. “They're up significantly this year. In fact, the number of weapons calls we attended are up significantly this year from last year. 

“And that is concerning, that our officers are facing more precarious and challenging situations, day in and day out."

But Pedersen was reluctant to link the increase to a long-term surge in the number of weapons on Sudbury streets.

"I don't know if we can make that jump,” he said. "We're looking at an increase of 12 -- that's one more call per month ... But it is going in the wrong direction and I think that's the point. We would rather be seeing less situations where our officers have to apply force less.

"I wouldn't say we're seeing alarming numbers, but we do see trends. And we're keeping an eye on those trends."

Police are seeing more aggression on the streets, he said, and so the force is focusing more training on de-escalation techniques, so officers can gain control of a situation before it gets out of hand.

"We try to put ourselves out there as peacekeepers, not just law enforcers," he said. "We've really made it a focus to talk about how to de-escalate a situation without having to resort to the tools around our belt."

The use of conducted energy weapons – better known as Tasers – increased last year, as well. But that increase of 10 uses – 57 from 47 – dovetails with an increase of 10 in the number of officers trained to use them.

The weapon has become an effective deterrent for officers, who rarely have to discharge them, Pedersen said. In 46 of the 57 cases, simply showing the suspect the Taser was enough to get him or her to comply.

"That's what we were hoping for," he said.

To ensure that it doesn't become a default de-escalation technique, there is a lot of training involved. And any time an officer uses a Taser, they have to file a detailed use of force report that explains why it was necessary in a given situation.

"Our experts pour over those use of force reports and look at every single detail and determine whether the force use was applicable for the situation," Pedersen said. "Those are the cheques and balances that are in place."

Read the full report online here.


Darren MacDonald

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