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Monday, March 23, 2009

Ottawa police use of force ‘softer’: report

March 23, 2009
By Neco Cockburn, The Ottawa Citizen

OTTAWA — The city's police used batons and “hard” physical control techniques such as punching or kicking much less often last year than in 2007, statistics show, and the overall crime rate dropped 7.5 per cent.

The statistics are contained in the 2008 use-of-force annual report and a 2008 activity report, which will be presented at an Ottawa Police Services Board meeting Monday, along with the results of a public survey on policing.

According the use-of-force report, officers used batons 16 times last year, compared to 66 times in 2007, while hard techniques were used seven times in 2008, down from 37 the year before.

Use of Tasers and “soft” physical techniques, such as restraining manoeuvres and joint locks, increased among officers last year.

Tasers were used 27 times in 2008, up from 12 times in 2007. Soft techniques were used 37 times in 2008, compared to eight times the year before.

The use-of-force report states that the rise in Taser use is likely a result of the additional number of officers using the devices since November 2007, when front-line supervisors were authorized to use them. Previously, only tactical officers were allowed to use the stun devices.

A summary of the activity report indicates that the overall crime rate dropped 7.5 per cent between 2007 and 2008, although a breakdown of figures was not immediately available. Ottawa police officers received more than 364,000 calls last year.

Initial statistics show a decrease in reported crimes against people and property. The summary also indicates a slight increase in the number of Highway Traffic Act violations last year, but that traffic fatalities fell from 36 in 2007 to 23 last year.

Despite the more promising numbers, the public survey on policing services found that 43 per cent of 2,508 respondents perceived crime in Ottawa has risen over the past three years, although that was down from 54 per cent in 2006.

Top neighbourhood concerns include:

- speeding cars;
- aggressive driving;
- break and enters;
- thefts from vehicles;
- vandalism; and
- identity theft.

Top concerns at the city level include:

- presence of drugs and drug dealers;
- youth crime and violence;
- speeding;
- aggressive driving;
- robbery; and
- homelessness.

The survey also found that 86 per cent of respondents were satisfied with the quality of police service, while 68 per cent said police are doing a good or very good job.

As for use of force, 482 incidents involving force were reported last year, down from 511 in 2007. The decrease could be partially due to an overall decrease in calls for service in 2008, the report says.

Police officers are required to submit a report when they draw a gun in public, discharge a gun or use an intermediate weapon such as pepper spray, or if any physical force they use results in an injury.

Police used pepper spray 59 times last year, up from 54 times in 2007.

Officers drew guns 151 times and pointed guns at people 214 times last year (guns without holsters, such as tactical weapons, are not considered to be drawn). In 2007, officers drew guns 157 times and pointed them at people 212 times.

Officers fired their guns 62 times last year, all but once to kill dangerous or injured animals. At the end of December, an officer injured two people with one bullet when confronted by a knife-wielding woman in a Pinecrest Road apartment. The officer was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing by the province’s Special Investigations Unit.

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