Rise in po­lice shoot­ings taxes watch­dog

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - JU­RIS GRANEY

Al­berta’s po­lice watch­dog is at “crit­i­cal mass” when it comes to the num­ber of in­ves­ti­ga­tions it can han­dle thanks in part to the in­creased com­plex­ity of sen­si­tive in­ves­ti­ga­tions and a jump in po­lice-in­volved shoot­ings in 2018.

The Al­berta Se­ri­ous In­ci­dent Re­sponse Team (ASIRT) was di­rected to probe 71 cases last year rang­ing from fa­tal mo­tor-ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing po­lice to phys­i­cal al­ter­ca­tions to the re­view of other po­lice files from out of prov­ince.

Last year about one-third of its case load — or 26 files — cen­tred on po­lice-in­volved shoot­ings in Al­berta.

Eleven of the cases were fa­tal en­coun­ters while an­other six in­volved se­ri­ous in­juries.

Cal­gary Po­lice Ser­vice of­fi­cers were in­volved in cases that re­sulted in six deaths, one se­ri­ous in­jury and two dis­charge of firearms. RCMP of­fi­cers were in­volved in three deaths, five se­ri­ous in­juries and three dis­charge of firearms.

Two deaths in­volved Ed­mon­ton Po­lice Ser­vice of­fi­cers, in­clud­ing 34-year-old Buck Evans, who was shot dead by po­lice dur­ing a traf­fic stop that was part of a sur­veil­lance op­er­a­tion near 71 Street and 79 Av­enue in the King Ed­ward Park neigh­bour­hood on Box­ing Day.

One of the 26 files from 2018 was the re­view of a case in New­found­land and an­other two re­late to an open in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the con­duct of an off-duty po­lice mem­ber.

… The pres­ence of meth in our com­mu­ni­ties is a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem.

ASIRT ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Sue Hugh­son said it is im­pos­si­ble to pre­dict the num­ber of files each year they are asked to in­ves­ti­gate.

“Right now the work­load is just steadily in­creas­ing,” Hugh­son said in a mid-week in­ter­view.

“It’s not ta­per­ing off at all ... we are func­tion­ing at pretty much crit­i­cal mass.”

The to­tal num­ber of files as­signed to ASIRT was up slightly from the pre­vi­ous year’s tally of 70 but sig­nif­i­cantly lower than in 2016, when the agency was asked to in­ves­ti­gate 83 files.

“I do think that if you look at some of the pre­cur­sors that are

un­der­ly­ing some of the con­fronta­tions that po­lice get in­volved in, the pres­ence of meth in our com­mu­ni­ties is a sig­nif­i­cant prob­lem,” Hugh­son said.

“It tends to show up on many of our files and it’s the type of drug that the first im­pact is judg­ment, which may ex­plain why peo­ple are do­ing or act­ing the way they are act­ing.”

Un­der the Crim­i­nal Code, of­fi­cers are not en­ti­tled to use lethal force un­less cer­tain cir­cum­stances ex­ist, Hugh­son said.

The main jus­ti­fi­ca­tion is that there is an ob­jec­tively rea­son­able fear that the per­son presents an im­me­di­ate threat to the life or are in a po­si­tion to cause griev­ous bod­ily harm to an­other per­son or the of­fi­cer, she said.

Of­fi­cers must also look at what other op­tions are avail­able, such as what kind of risk the sus­pect presents, whether there are weapons in­volved, the ur­gency or im­me­di­acy of the sit­u­a­tion, and the abil­ity to re­po­si­tion so there is no longer a threat or to de-es­ca­late.

“You don’t just get to use lethal force all the time,” she said. Nor do of­fi­cers want to.

“No mat­ter the case we have had, I can tell you un­equiv­o­cally across the board that no one wanted to be in­volved in the lethal use of force. No­body is look­ing for this,” she said.

ASIRT in­ves­ti­gated 16 po­li­cein­volved shoot­ings in 2017 which rep­re­sents a 62 per cent in­crease year-over-year.

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