Complaints against police up in B.C. but substantiated allegations down

While the number of complaints the Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner received went up, the percentage of substantiated allegations was at a 10-year low

Annual report by Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner shows 14 per cent increase from previous year

While more complaint files were opened last year, the Office of the Police Complaint Commission says the number of substantiated allegations were the lowest in a decade.

While the number of complaints to British Columbia's police complaint commissioner reached a record high in 2015-2016, the percentage of substantiated allegations was the lowest in a decade.

The organization's annual report shows 1,230 files were opened over the past year, a 14 per cent increase over 1,076 in 2014-2015.

Files opened by the Office of the Police Complaints Commissioner over the last five years. (OPCC)

The commissioner also concluded investigations on 777 allegations during the 2015-2016 year. 

But just 50 of those — 6.4 per cent — warranted further investigation, the lowest percentage since 2004-2005.

Those 50 investigations resulted in a variety of disciplinary measures ranging from reprimands to dismissals, with four officers let go in total. 

Reported injuries also up

The Police Act requires departments under the OPCC's jurisdiction to report any time a person requires medical treatment while in police custody.

Last year, there were a total of 486 reportable injuries, up from 384 in 2014-2015.

While the report didn't give a reason for the increase, Commissioner Stan Lowe wrote that the number of injuries had gone up since the Independent Investigations Office was created in 2012. 

The largest section of reported injuries comes from dog bites. There were 180 cases of police dog bites causing injury in 2016-2016, up from 102 in 2014-2015. 

Pivot Legal Society lawyer Doug King claims it's a clear sign the dogs are being misused.

"More and more, we are seeing police dogs used as weapons. More and more, we are seeing police dogs used in the name of police safety and not for tracking or finding an individual," he said. 

"In many respects, you could say they are the new Taser in how police are using them against suspects they believe have the potential to cause harm but aren't actively causing a threat. There's a lot of grey area that needs to be explored."

However, Deputy Police Complaints Commissioner Rollie Woods says the increase in injuries isn't necessarily reflective of police overuse. 

"It's something we're mindful of, and we're watching it, but in the review of everyone of these things, I haven't seen any increase in concern in the way the dogs are being deployed," he said.

"The police dogs handlers seem to be complying with the standards [in place]."

The Office of the Police Complaint Commissioner oversees the handling of complaints involving municipal police departments in British Columbia, including Vancouver, Victoria, Abbotsford and Delta. 

With files from Richard Zussman