Rise in police shootings taxes watchdog
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.