Thunder Bay police use-of-force up in 2017, report shows

The sheer number of calls received by Thunder Bay police in 2017 is likely a contributor to the rise in use-of-force incidents, the service's chief instructor says.

110 use-of-force incidents reported in 2017, up from 62 the year before

Thunder Bay police received 54 complaints in 2017. (Cathy Alex/CBC)

The sheer number of calls received by Thunder Bay police in 2017 is likely a contributor to the rise in use-of-force incidents, the service's chief instructor says.

A report presented to the Thunder Bay Police Services Board at its Thursday morning meeting shows there were 110 reported use-of-force incidents in 2017, up from 62 in 2016.

"There isn't just one factor that would associate to that number," said Sgt. Rino Belcamino, the Thunder Bay Police Service's chief instructor. "It comes down to ... subject interactions."

Calls increasing

"Increased use-of-force could have something to do with the criminality that they're dealing with," he said. "It could be in terms of officers going to more calls."

The statistics show there were more than 50,000 reported interactions between police and people in Thunder Bay last year, up nearly six per cent over 2016.

The statistics also show:

  • Stun guns were used 11 times
  • Firearms were drawn 50 times, and pointed at people 47 times
  • Aerosol weapons, like pepper spray, were used nine times

Police firearms were discharged 19 times, up from three times in 2016.

However, Belcamino said each time police fired a gun last year, they did so to kill a wounded animal.

He said the rise in the city's deer population was likely a factor and no shots were fired at people.

Belcamino noted that incidents of "tactical communication" were also up in 2017, with 73 reported. Tactical communications, Belcamino said, are techniques officers can use to de-escalate a situation without using force.

"It's the number one, chosen first option," he said. "It shows that officers are making an attempt to try to quell the threat without actually using any type of force that may be beyond tactical communications, whether it be getting hands-on or using a weapon."

54 complaints received in 2017

Police complaints were also discussed on Thursday morning.

According to a report presented to the board, Thunder Bay police received 54 complaints over 2017.

Twenty-two of them were for officer misconduct, five for neglect of duty, and two for unlawful arrest or excessive force.

The police service also received four service complaints, and two policy complaints.

Of the 54 complaints received, 19 were not accepted by the Office of the Independent Review Director as they were deemed frivolous, having been made in bad faith, or not in the public interest.

A further 12 were withdrawn, while one was resolved through an informal agreement. Nine were deemed unsubstantiated, and 13 are being investigated.