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Feds want more information on police use of force

Nov 26 2013

OTTAWA - The federal government wants to know how officers in this country are using force so the information can be offered up to inform training and police work nationwide.

To that end, Public Safety Canada is commissioning a research project focused on how to collect relevant police data, the details of which were outlined in a request for proposal issued this week.

Part of the job is to determine what data is needed to answer many questions posed over the years, the tender states, such as: Does erratic behaviour and mental instability relate to the degree of force used? Do officers apply more or less force at the start or end of their shifts? What use of force is most associated with officer and suspect injury or death?


December 2, 2013
By Corrie Sloot

Nov 26 2013

OTTAWA – The federal government wants to know how officers in this country are using force so the information can be offered up to inform training and police work nationwide.

To that end, Public Safety Canada is commissioning a research project focused on how to collect relevant police data, the details of which were outlined in a request for proposal issued this week.

Part of the job is to determine what data is needed to answer many questions posed over the years, the tender states, such as: Does erratic behaviour and mental instability relate to the degree of force used? Do officers apply more or less force at the start or end of their shifts? What use of force is most associated with officer and suspect injury or death?

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The search for better information comes as the province’s ombudsman conducts a review of de-escalation methods following the Toronto police shooting death of teenager Sammy Yatim. As well, Ontario police chiefs have just received updated guidelines for use-of-force involving Tasers, following the provincial decision to expand the weapon’s availability.

Taser and firearm use have been hotly debated across Canada in recent years following several high-profile deaths, although oversight typically falls to the provinces.

The purpose of the federal research project is two-fold, according to tender, which states the deadline for research to be completed is the end of March.

The first is to figure out what data would be needed to answer the many use-of-force questions posed over the years by Canadian academics, jurists, policymakers and police forces.

The second aim is to build on the existing national use-of-force guidelines, such as a continuum graphic that depicts when lethal and other force are appropriate. Adding to that information could help better inform training, the tender states.

Simon Fraser University criminology professor Rob Gordon said police across Canada fill out forms after they use force, whether it’s with a weapon or hand techniques.

Gordon said police forces have improved collection and analysis of information in the past decade. But thorough analysis is needed of why weapons are used and their results, Gordon said.

“The practice of reporting is more or less standard but the extent to which the stuff is analyzed, is not,” said Gordon, who was part of a panel that looked at the health effects of being Tasered. The panel recommended better information collection. “It’s invaluable,” he said.

The project, which is expected to cost less than $60,000, isn’t tied to any specific event, Public Safety Canada spokesman Kevin Miller said in an email.

He said the department’s intention is to share the results with various stakeholders across Canada, who will be allowed to determine whether or not to use the findings for their data or analysis strategies.

The tender states that the project is related to a 2007 federal-provincial working group, which began sharing information about use of conducted energy weapons, and later expanded its mandate to other types of force. Law-enforcement stakeholders have recognized the need for research grounded in data, according to the tender.

Toronto police Deputy Chief Mike Federico, who co-chairs a Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police use-of-force committee, said there’s a general discussion in police circles about collecting such data federally but many practical questions remain, including where information would be collected and who would co-ordinate information gathering.

“From a point of principal,” he said, “knowing more about what challenges face our officers, and what decisions our officers make, and how they make decisions, is important for the advancement of police science.”

There are more basic questions even within individual jurisdictions about when to report force, he said, giving the example of someone being arrested without incident or weapon use, when only verbal direction and handcuffs are used. “No force, technically, has been used, except the force that goes along with the authority of a police officer . . . it only becomes a question if somebody dies in custody,” he said.

Although there are “practical challenges,“ including making sure an officer’s time isn’t consumed with paperwork, Federico said the questions researchers will be tasked with answering are important. “We’re not all certain we’re asking the right question or enough questions,“ he said.

(Ottawa Citizen)


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