Police arrest a man near Max Bell arena suspected of robbing a bank on Thursday, May 18 2017. Gavin Young/Postmedia Network
Calgary police continue to revamp how the service deals with potentially deadly situations nearly a year after an independent review found “gaps and opportunities” with the service’s training and tactics.Released last May, the use of force review, which contained 65 recommendations in eight categories, began in 2017 after what Deputy Chief Ray Robitaille called a “significant elevation” in officer-involved shootings in 2016.Statistics from the service show officers fired their service weapons in 10 incidents that year — the same number as the three previous years combined.And half of the 2016 shootings ended in fatalities, something Robitaille called “on the extreme end” of the use of force spectrum.“Any time we see something like that, we’re always going to be looking at a proactive approach of what’s going on and look at reducing the amount of force that police need to use,” he said.According to numbers provided by Calgary police, some 966 use of force incidents were logged last year, representing one such encounter in every 664 interactions with officers in 2018. The total is a shade lower that the high-water mark reached in 2017, which saw 998 use of force encounters registered, nearly three every day.In terms of Taser use, some sort of contact, whether directly or from longer range probes, was made 95 times in 2018, while stun guns were also pointed but not used on subjects on 65 occasions. The previous year saw 55 instances of contact while the devices were displayed 65 times.When it comes to firearms, Calgary police officers brandished their weapons 30 times last year, firing on nine occasions. In 2017, officers used their weapons 10 times while pointing their guns on 34 occasions.The nearly 400-page use of force review was penned by retired Court of Queen’s Bench justice Neil Wittmann, who Robitaille said was selected for the project because he is independent, trustworthy and credible.
Calgary police respond to a shooting which injured an officer in northeast Calgary on Tuesday March 27, 2018.
Darren Makowichuk / Postmedia
Wittman identified dozens of areas of potential improvement, including better understanding of mental health concerns, equipment recommendations, an emphasis on de-escalation training and improved oversight.“There’s going to be some (recommendations) that require complex business cases, and some that just require policy adjustments,” Robitaille said, adding there “aren’t any that we’ve discounted.”But adopting all 65 recommendations takes time and money, he said, especially those that require purchasing new equipment.Robitaille noted two such recommendations in particular — that all frontline officers should carry conducted energy weapons, otherwise known as Tasers; and better “vehicle flight intervention tactics,” or how police engage with the drivers of stolen vehicles.Robitaille called stolen auto calls “the highest-risk incidents (an officer) can be involved in,” especially when the driver is impaired by such a controlled substance as methamphetamine.One similar incident saw a Calgary woman shot and killed on Christmas day 2018, after she pinned a female officer to another vehicle.
A heavily damaged car rests near the corner of 26th Avenue and 66th Street N.E. in Pineridge after a police chase on Dec. 17, 2018.
Wittmann noted a “lack of an updated, cohesive policy” in the department regarding police pursuits, which he said is impacting the service’s ability to safely stop “a vehicle which is being operated in a manner that poses a danger to the public.”“Some examples include going the wrong way down the Deerfoot Trail at 160 km per hour or going on the sidewalks down the Stephen Avenue Mall at speeds in excess of 100 km per hour,” Wittman wrote.Related
One such police chase “which occurred over a 90-minute period, found that the estimate cost of the event to the CPS was $28,955,” Wittman said.As per the recommendation, Robitaille said the service will start training on advanced immobilization tactics, like “pinning,” for selected frontline officers later in 2019.Wittman is also recommending the service purchase remote-controlled spike systems, noting the service did away with spike belts in 2003 following the death of Const. Rick Sonnenberg, killed while deploying one of the devices a decade earlier.Some recommendations for frontline officers in the report were already being tackled by the service prior to Wittman publishing his findings, like acquiring body cameras and training those officer how to use the ARWEN less-lethal launcher.By the end of 2019, Robitaille said, 1,100 officers will be equipped with body cameras and 160 officers will be trained on the ARWEN.Officers strive to use “the lowest denominator within our control” when it comes to use of force, no matter the situation, Robitaille said“These are specific skills. They’re tools, but it’s not the tool, you need to have people who have effective decision-making, experience in policing is extremely important,” he said.“No situation is the same, they have a lot of similarities and the more experience you have in dealing with these the better your judgement and decision-making is going to be under stress.”RRumbolt@postmedia.comOn Twitter: @RCRumbolt