The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner (OPCC) has released its annual report detailing complaints filed against officers in B.C.’s municipal police forces and has found injuries inflicted by police are on the rise.
2020/21 saw 448 notifications of injury and 681 uses of force by police. This is the highest total in the last five years.
The biggest increase in use of force notifications is the use of ARWEN 37 or bean bag shotguns. The “less lethal” weapons are designed for riot control. Data shows 125 uses of the weapon this past year, far higher than the 78 uses recorded between 2019 and 2020.
Deputy police complaint commissioner Andrea Spindler explained the increase in ARWEN usage is attributable to a change in how data is recorded.
“Police departments weren’t always reporting the use of bean bag shotguns. There was a misunderstanding among police agencies in terms of those types of reports when a bean bag is used. It doesn’t matter whether a person goes to hospital or not, usage has to be reported to our office.”
Instances of ARWEN usage jumped after the OPCC issued that clarification to police agencies.
Meanwhile, there was a decrease in the number of dog bite injuries with 98 recorded — the lowest level in the last five years. Spindler said the OPCC has been focused on reducing dog bite injuries for a number of years.
Spindler pointed to an increase in “empty hand” injuries, meaning injuries inflicted by officers striking people. This past year, 162 empty hand injuries were inflicted by police.
“It is concerning that we’re seeing more hospitalizations from these kinds of strikes. How can the police effectively interact and take someone into custody in a way that’s safe for the officer and the person they’re placing under arrest?”
Spindler recommends police look at using joint manipulation techniques and other methods of arrest instead of empty hand strikes to reduce injuries.
The report comes amid a global conversation around police accountability. B.C. is currently reviewing the Police Act and that review may result in changes to the way police operate in the province. Spindler said she’s hopeful the review will bring change. The OPCC is involved in the review process with government and other stakeholders.
“They have been tasked with looking at modernizing policing in British Columbia and looking at the role of police with respect to complex social issues like mental health and wellness, addictions, harm reduction. They’re looking at systemic racism, how governance and oversight is done as well as training and education.”
“We see opportunities for improvement with a greater focus on crisis intervention and de-escalation skills. Having officers with good communication skills and compassion is just as important as training them on techniques of use of force.”
The OPCC received 583 complaints from the public about police conduct, but only 258 were considered admissible. Complaints must contain allegations of misconduct that are outlined under the Police Act. There are 13 disciplinary breaches of trust that officers can be reprimanded for.
Complaints must be made within one year of the alleged offence, however, the commissioner can waive the time limitation for sufficient reasons. Complaints cannot be vexatious, meaning complaints must have a basis in law to be heard.
The report does not contain any information related to the RCMP. RCMP complaints are handled through the Civilian Review and Complaints Commission for the RCMP.
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