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Police use of force incidents jumped by 34.7% last year

Greater Sudbury Police Service use-of-force incidents totalled 128 in 2022, which was an increase from the 95 incidents recorded in 2021

Greater Sudbury police counted 128 use-of-force incidents last year, which is a 34.7-per-cent increase from the 95 reported in 2021.

A spike in mental health-related calls is largely to blame for last year’s increase in use of force, Chief Paul Pedersen said during Wednesday's police board meeting.

A report by Deputy Chief Sara Cunningham notes there was a 65-per-cent increase in mental health-related calls last year, when a total of 2,782 related calls were recorded by police.

When it comes to calls involving use of force, mental health incidents accounted for the greatest year-over-year jump, increasing by 19 to last year’s 26.

Although it has been long accepted that mental health professionals are better equipped than police officers to respond to mental health-related calls, Pedersen said police are still needed.

“The majority of the mental health calls we go to, when we’re called it’s because there’s a demonstration of violence, a presence of weapons, and that requires our team to come in,” Pedersen explained during Wednesday’s meeting.

Despite the increase in use-of-force incidents, Pedersen clarified in conversation with that de-escalation techniques remain paramount.

“De-escalation is integral in not only all parts of the use-of-force model, but all parts of our training,” he said. “We train our officers to use our presence, to use calmness, distance, separation and communication ... throughout every case.”

Of the mental health-related incidents involving use of force, 40 per cent involved a conducted energy weapon being shown by police, but not deployed. 

“These situations usually involve situations where the person in crisis was holding a knife and refusing to drop it, or the person in crisis was becoming increasingly aggressive towards officers (e.g., lunging at officers),” according to Cunningham’s report.

A total of 187 use of force reports were submitted regarding the 128 incidents in 2022, which is indicative of more than one officer filing reports for some incidents.

Use of force reports are submitted when a police officer uses physical force on another person that results in injury or a complaint. It also applies to incidents where an officer pulls out certain weapons, such as firearms or conducted energy weapons (best known by the brand name Taser), even in cases where they are not fired.

Of the 128 incidents, call-outs involving weapons topped the list at 32, followed by 26 mental health calls, 10 injured animals, nine domestic disturbances and seven arrest warrants.

Cunningham’s report also covers the perceived race of people involved in use-of-force incidents. Of the 147 people encountered by police in 2022:

  • 104 people were white (70 per cent)
  • 25 people were Indigenous (17 per cent)
  • 17 people were Black (11 per cent)
  • One person was of an “other” minority (one per cent)

According to Statistics Canada’s 2021 census, 11 per cent of the City of Greater Sudbury’s population is Indigenous, which is a lower proportion than the 17 per cent of use of force incidents in 2022 involving people perceived as Indigenous.

Of the 25 use-of-force interactions with Indigenous people, 52 per cent involved “risks to both public and officer safety, especially instances where the individual was in possession of a weapon, such as a knife or firearm,” according to Cunningham’s report.

There’s also a disconnect between the 2.5 per cent of Greater Sudbury’s population identifying as Black and the fact 11 per cent of use-of-force incidents involved people perceived as Black.

Cunningham’s report notes that 71 per cent of the people with a perceived race of Black were from outside of Sudbury. Of them, 90 per cent were involved in what police reported as high-risk calls, involving drug trafficking or human trafficking, and were known to carry weapons.

There were 87 reports in 2022 where police drew, pointed or discharged a firearm, including 63 cases where they pointed a firearm, 14 involving drawing a handgun and 10 incidents where a firearm was discharged.

Every time a firearm was discharged, it was to dispatch an injured animal.

Conductive energy weapons were used 91 times, including 62 times they were used without firing a cartridge, and 29 cases where a cartridge or drive-stun was fired (full deployment)

This is an increase of 50 cases involving conductive energy weapons in 2021, of which 17 were full deployments.

There were 14 hand-to-hand altercations in 2022, which was a drop from the 36 reported in 2021, which Cunningham’s report notes is in keeping with training that stresses “the importance of de-escalation techniques and maintaining time and distance with combative subjects.”

Last year, six officers received minor injuries requiring medical attention during a use-of-force incident, and there were 27 cases where subjects received an injury, which Pederson noted as being almost directly related to the number of times a conductive energy weapon was fully deployed (29).

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for