Fail­ure to obey use-of-force record­ing rules ‘alarm­ing’

Om­buds­man finds guards have prob­lems with video 67 per cent of the time

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - COLIN PERKEL

Fed­eral prison guards are fail­ing to com­ply with rules around video­tap­ing their use of force against in­mates in a ma­jor­ity of cases, ac­cord­ing to data ob­tained by The Cana­dian Press.

In the 2016-17 fis­cal year, the Of­fice of the Cor­rec­tional In­ves­ti­ga­tor led by Ivan Zinger re­viewed 1,436 in­ci­dents in which guards re­sorted to force against a pris­oner.

While the sit­u­a­tion has im­proved in re­cent years, the high in­ci­dence of prob­lems around video — in 67 per cent of the cases — is of sig­nif­i­cant con­cern, the prison om­buds­man said.

“This is still a very high num­ber of non­com­pli­ance,” Zinger said from Ot­tawa. “That’s what is alarm­ing.”

Prison pol­icy man­dates that guards use a hand-held cam­era to video planned uses of force, as well as in spon­ta­neous sit­u­a­tions where fea­si­ble. Com­pli­ance prob­lems ex­ist in both sce­nar­ios, data show.

Some of the is­sues with video com­pli­ance are of a rel­a­tively mi­nor or tech­ni­cal na­ture but in other cases, cru­cial video of in­ci­dents in which a pris­oner al­leges guards used ex­ces­sive force — a crim­i­nal of­fence — sim­ply isn’t avail­able when it should be.

Over­all, Zinger said, cases where video goes miss­ing, is deleted, or is other­wise un­avail­able to his om­buds­man of­fice are rel­a­tively rare but have an enor­mous im­pact.

“They cast an in­cred­i­bly neg­a­tive light on, and it may taint all, the good work that cor­rec­tional of­fi­cers do,” he said.

“It’s all good to say, ‘we’ve acted ap­pro­pri­ately,’ but if you can demon­strate that you have — and the video does that for you — then it makes the sys­tem even more cred­i­ble and erases any doubt in any­body’s mind.”

Non­com­pli­ance in­ci­dents in­volv­ing video have fallen since the 83.5 per cent found in 2014-15, but the Of­fice of the Cor­rec­tional In­ves­ti­ga­tor iden­ti­fied on­go­ing is­sues such as:

De­lays in dis­patch­ing hand-held cam­eras dur­ing spon­ta­neous use of force when time and re­sources are avail­able;

Fail­ure to video pre-in­ci­dent brief­ings when force is planned;

Lack of video of de­con­tam­i­na­tion pro­ce­dures af­ter guards have used chem­i­cal spray on an in­mate.

The cor­rec­tional ser­vice wouldn’t be com­ment­ing on the data be­cause they came from a third party and would need to be ver­i­fied, spokesper­son Laura Cum­ming said. She also said pol­icy breaches are not tol­er­ated and would be in­ves­ti­gated.

Given the im­mense power en­trusted to guards, the om­buds­man said, full com­pli­ance with law and pol­icy in all as­pects is crit­i­cal.

Video can help pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble in­mates from abuse, but can also pro­tect guards against false al­le­ga­tions of bru­tal­ity.

“It’s to the ben­e­fit of ev­ery­body to make sure that cam­eras are used ap­pro­pri­ately,” Zinger said.

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