Calgary police shot four times as many people in 2018 as previous year

The spike comes as Calgary officers face renewed scrutiny over use of force, with a recent independent review finding gaps and making 65 recommendations.

Officers involved in 9 shootings so far this year, compared to 2 a year earlier

Calgary police acting Chief Steve Barlow, right, says his officers are often deployed to unpredictable scenes. At left, the scene of a police-involved shooting in the northeast community of Redstone in August. (Left photo: Helen Pike/CBC, right photo: CBC)

Calgary police shot nine people this year — killing five of them — after they were involved in just two shootings last year.

The spike comes as Calgary officers face renewed scrutiny over use of force, with a recent independent review finding gaps and making 65 recommendations.

Acting Chief Steve Barlow said his officers are often deployed to unpredictable scenes. He said some of the people shot by police this year had mental health and addiction issues.

The latest police-involved shooting came early Christmas morning, when a woman was shot and killed by an officer after an hours-long chase. This case, like every other police shooting in 2018, is being investigated by the oversight watchdog, the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team.

Barlow, who declined to comment on the open cases, said he remains committed to learning from the independent review into the police service's use of force by retired Court of Queen's Bench chief justice Neil Wittmann.

"Officers are dealing with mental health and addiction issues every single day and hundreds — I'll say thousands — of those events don't turn into shootings," Barlow said in an interview.

"When we run into these situations like we have been recently, it's very difficult and these officers are being placed in these situations that are very, very unpredictable."

In the latest case, police say they saw a vehicle being driven dangerously in the Inglewood area just after midnight on Dec. 25 and the driver wouldn't stop when officers tried to intervene. Police say the vehicle — a grey Honda sedan with B.C. licence plates — ran red lights and drove into oncoming traffic several times.

More than two hours later, police say they tried again to stop the vehicle on McKnight Boulevard near 68th Street N.E. The confrontation escalated, and an officer with 10 years on the force shot and killed the female driver.

Police said on Thursday the woman killed was the registered owner of the vehicle and they were still working to notify her next of kin. 

Retired Court of Queen's Bench chief justice Neil Wittmann compiled an independent review on use of force by Calgary police., which included 65 recommendations. (Patrick Baillie)

Since 2012, there have been 30 shootings by Calgary police, 21 of them in the last three years.

The independent review of the police service's use of force said Calgary officers should, "at best, eliminate or at least reduce the situations that cause officers to use lethal force."

Among other steps, Wittmann recommended front-line officers take annual training on de-escalating tense confrontations, and that they carry conducted energy weapons and pepper spray, along with firearms.

Wittmann's report noted police must recognize that responding to scenes involving people with mental health challenges "is now a critical component of their job."

"This understanding will influence the required cultural change and changes in recruitment, training, policies and procedures to ensure officers have the requisite capacity and ability to respond," stated the report, released in late May.

Still, Wittmann said in his report he found Calgary police "have a deep understanding of their power and authority and have balanced this with the related responsibility and duty to serve."

Barlow said the police service has already started implementing a number of Wittmann's recommendations, such as training officers on de-escalation and teaching them to carry ARWENs, so-called less lethal weapons that fire batons made of plastic.

"We're not taking this lightly," the acting chief said. "The unfortunate thing is that these situations my officers will be faced with are still happening and we have to deal with them as we see fit.

"At the same time [we're] trying to figure out, OK, is there other training, are there other tools that we can use, or [can we] work with different policies with more information? But again [these are] very dynamic situations and I wouldn't wish them upon anybody."

About the Author

Reid Southwick

Reporter

Reid Southwick spent 10 years in newspapers reporting in New Brunswick and Alberta before joining CBC in late 2017. In Calgary, he has covered business news, crime and Alberta's fentanyl crisis. Get in touch with Reid by email at reid.southwick@cbc.ca or on Twitter @ReidSouthwick.

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