Calgary police put in shoot-or-not situations 'far too frequently,' union head says

Calgary officers are being put in situations where they have to decide whether to shoot somebody "far too frequently," says the new president of the police union, who has pledged to give members more of a public voice.

Officers shot 10 people last year, killing 5 of them, far outpacing any other Canadian city

Officers outside a strip mall in the northwest Calgary community of Montgomery where a 49-year-old man was shot dead by police in November. Police said the man drove his vehicle at officers as they moved in on it. (CBC)

Calgary officers are being put in situations where they have to decide whether to shoot somebody "far too frequently," says the new president of the police union, who has pledged to give members more of a public voice.

"The last thing we want is to be forced into a situation where we must use deadly force," Les Kaminski told reporters during a news conference Wednesday.

It has been unusual in the past for the Calgary Police Association (CPA) to hold news conferences but Kaminski, who was elected as its president in November, said he intends to change that.

"I won the election on the platform that I'd provide a voice," he said.

The CPA participated in a meeting with the Calgary Police Commission on Tuesday, something Kaminski said hasn't happened in years and another change he intends to continue.​

Calgary Police Association president Les Kaminski speaks to reporters at a press conference. (Monty Kruger/CBC)

Kaminski said he initially intended to have up to 100 officers stand behind him at Wednesday's press conference in order to "to really create an impact" but said he decided to drop that plan after Tuesday's meeting, at the request of commission chair Brian Thiessen.

"Mr. Thiessen, he expressed some concern about the optics of having those members there," Kaminski said.

"I want to create a good working relationship with Mr. Thiessen."

There have been numerous public controversies surrounding police in Calgary recently, including the frequency with which they have shot people.

Police officers shot 10 people in 2016 — killing five of them.

That's more than any other city in Canada.

Kaminski said officers are as worried about the spike in shootings as anyone else and want to see a change in deployment strategies so they end up high-risk situations less often.

"We are answering more calls where those decisions (to shoot) have to be made now," he said.

"We have to go after the source of those problems — that's the prolific offenders."

Kaminski figures auto thefts, for example, could be cut in half by focusing more heavily on those "prolific offenders."

Police also need to refocus their tactics on the drug trade, Kaminski said, which he described as "one of the main driving factors" behind the recent increase in property crime, in particular.

"We've had crime waves before and we've put resources to directly deal with those issues," he said. "I think we could really have a positive impact if we take some of those lessons from the past and plug them back in."

Kaminski held the news conference on the same day that CBC News learned he was under investigation over allegations of perjury, uttering false documents, obstruction of justice, assault causing bodily harm and bringing false charges.

Workplace culture

Kaminski also addressed recent concerns that have been raised about workplace culture within the Calgary Police Service, specifically among some female members.

The concerns were outlined in a partially redacted 2013 workplace review document that surfaced in 2016, which outlined what some members described as an "Old Boys Network."

Coun. Diane Colley-Urquhart also revealed last year that numerous female officers had come directly to her with concerns because they had a "significant feeling of retribution and fear" if other police officers were to find out about their complaints.

Kaminski acknowledged the concerns as valid but said the problems have been isolated and are "not systemic" to the service as a whole.

"I know there's incidents where some of our members, especially our women, are victimized or have really bad experiences," he said.

"We have incidents because we have 2,200 members."

Police officers charged with crimes

Numerous officers have recently been charged with criminal offences, a fact Kaminski said is as troubling to police as it is to the public — if not more so.

"Every good cop in this city doesn't want the bad cops here," he said. It paints us all with a really bad brush."

Kaminski also said it's important for officers who break the law to be prosecuted in order to preserve the integrity of the service.

"The vast majority of our members are absolutely outstanding police officers," he said.

"If the bad ones get caught and go through the court system, we believe justice will be served."