Use of force between Hamilton police and the public is most common in July

The most common time for Hamilton police officers to use force on members of the public — and vice versa — is 9 p.m. on a Thursday in July, according to a new report.

Police use of force increased between 2018 and 2019, but numbers show it falls short of a 10-year high

Hamilton police say the number of times members of the public used guns, either real or replica, in interactions increased 88 per cent in 2019. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The most common time for Hamilton police officers to use force on members of the public — and vice versa — is 9 p.m. on a Thursday in July. 

That's according to a new use of force report from Hamilton Police Service (HPS), which shows officers used force 265 times in 2019, the second highest number in 10 years.

Officers most often used force in weapons calls or cases of high-risk arrests, the report says.

Use of force can include drawing a gun (29 times), a K9 unit dog bite (once) or applying a baton to a pressure point. No matter the type, use of force is most likely to happen on a Thursday (74 times) at 9 p.m. (31 times) in either July (40 times) or March (38).

"The number of use of force incidents appears to rise slightly during the first part of the year, with a steady decline before reaching its highest point in July," says the report, which Chief Eric Girt will present to the police services board on Thursday.

After July, the incidents plateau "for the remainder of the year," reaching their lowest point in November. The report says the police don't know why, but "data from future years could solidify/confirm any trends."

This graph shows the total number of use of force reports, by year. (Hamilton Police Service)
This graph shows use of force incidents by month. (Hamilton Police Service)

Use of force incidents were the least frequent on Friday (38), and the fewest happen in the morning between 4 a.m. and noon. After noon, they steadily increase with a peak around 9 p.m.

Increased attention has been paid to police use of force this year, with the high-profile death of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man who died after a police officer leaned on his neck for about eight minutes. Hamilton police have received dozens of letters about reducing police funding in favour of putting more money into social services such as addiction services and affordable housing. 

The police services board will receive a report soon examining a hypothetical 20-per cent funding cut, although councillors and board members say most residents want more police presence, not less. 

Girt's report this week shows Hamilton police use of force in 2019 was the second highest in 10 years. In 2018, there were 233 use of force incidents, and the 10-year average is 239. The 2019 total is second only to 2012, when there were 311 incidents. 

The report shows officers fired their guns 28 times in 2019, the same as 2018, although 27 of those times were to euthanize animals. Conversely, the number of times people were armed with guns — whether actual or replica — in interactions with officers increased from 16 to 30.

This graph shows use of force incidents by day of the week. (Hamilton Police Service)

Other weapons people brandished in police interactions included knives (52 cases), hatchets, hammers, baseball bats and pool cues. In one case, someone used a boulder, and in three instances, a sword.

"It is clear that an edged weapon of some type is the weapon of choice," the report says. 

There was also a slight increase in the number of times officers drew their guns — from 125 to 128 —  and conductive energy weapon (CEW) usage increased from 57 to 61.

This graph shows use of force incidents by time of day. (Hamilton Police Service)

Force was most often used in division 10, which is Hamilton's lower city, and it was most commonly used by officers with 10 to 15 years of experience (26 per cent), although that was followed closely by officers who were on the job five years or less (24 per cent). The report says the latter number is because rookie officers are most likely to be on uniform patrol.

There were 72 incidents where medical attention was needed, either by the officer or the other person or both. This was most often a mental health assessment (55 cases) or CEW probe removal (35).

The police services board will discuss the report at 1 p.m. on Thursday.


Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She often tweets about Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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