New figures related to use of force by police officers in Alberta’s capital show a significant jump in such recorded incidents between 2020 and 2021, but the Edmonton Police Service says that is likely to be largely due to a policy initiative brought in last year to improve reporting of those events.
The EPS delivered a semi-annual report on use of force by its officers to the Edmonton Police Commission on Thursday. The police force said the number of control tactics reports increased by 18.9 per cent in 2021. Such reports are submitted when an injury to “any person” occurs, a gun was drawn, displayed or pointed, tools like sprays or conducted energy weapons were used, or the “force used was higher than empty hand control, which is used for co-operative handcuffing” or when a superior deems there to be an unusual circumstance that requires a report.
“The reason that the number of control tactics reports are higher than the number of occurrences is due to the EPS policy requirement for every officer involved in a use of force to submit a control tactics report,” the document reads.
Staff Sgt. David DeMarco said it also appears officers are being called to what he described as challenging situations with increasing frequency. He also noted Thursday that figures regarding the amount of times a weapon was actually used in 2021 did not increase significantly.
In all, EPS said it recorded 377,049 total police events in 2021. In the same year, the total number of use of force occurrences recorded was 3,179, up from 2,674 the year before.
“The numbers that have been released so far are generally consistent with respect to police use of force broadly speaking — that is, less than one per cent of police encounters with citizens involved the use of force,” said Temitope Oriola, criminologist at the University of Alberta.
He said in policing, the standard percentage of use of force incidents compared to total calls is one per cent. However, he said the EPS should continue to work to lower that number.
Oriola added that he believes the numbers suggest an “over-reliance on force,” even if not all uses of force are excessive.
He noted that when it specifically comes to the number of times a gun is actually pointed at someone by an officer, that increased by 39.3 per cent in 2021.
“There is clearly a need for a degree of reorientation regarding brandishing, displaying or deploying firearms,” Oriola said. “We’re not doing as well as we should in that regard.”
On Thursday, the EPS also released a report to the public showing that Edmonton has experienced a 17 per cent overall reduction in crime over the past three years.
“This is the single largest decrease in crime Edmonton has experienced in recent years,” Chief Dale McFee said in a news release.
“While we cannot discount the pandemic’s impacts, it is important to recognize how the dedication and work of our members and relationships with our community partners has helped to drive down crime, victimization, and repeat offences in our city.”
Oriola noted that it does seem bizarre that use of force numbers appear to be rising as crime appears to be declining. However, he also pointed out that there could be nuances behind the figures that could help explain the disparity at least to some degree.
DeMarch acknowledged “there’s a lot more interaction between citizens and police officers with drawn weapons.”
“I think we want to know why that is,” he said.
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