Ottawa police report rise in use of force

Ottawa police are downplaying a spike in its reports of using force on suspects last year.

Inspector says surge in reports due to better accounting

Ottawa police reported a spike in the number of cases it dealt with involving use of force, the CBC's Judy Trinh reports. 2:42

Ottawa police are downplaying a spike in its reports of using force on suspects last year.

The city's police services board was given figures Monday that showed police used some kind of force — which includes a range of methods from physical contact to pepper spray to pointing a service pistol — 740 times in 2010, up from 479 incidences in the previous year.

The reported rise in use of force incidents comes on the heels of several high profile cases involving officers or special constables using force on suspects, specifically in the cellblock area of police headquarters on Elgin Street.

Insp. Scott Nystedt, the officer overseeing use of force, said the jump was caused by a change in how the incidents are reported. Officers have now been asked to file each instance where force was used as a separate report, even if the forceful actions occurred during the same incident.

Nystedt said he believes the actual number of incidents was around 550.

"I made sure all of our officers were educated on how to fill out the report properly, so that's why you've seen such a significant increase in applications," Nystedt said.

"Going from 479 to 550 in one year of actual reports is not that significant to me."

Officer could use force 3 times in single incident: Nystedt

Nystedt gave an example to highlight the changes.

"If I attend a scene and someone comes at me with a knife and I withdraw my service pistol and point it at that person, then that is a use of force," he said.

If the suspect dropped the knife and remained combative, causing the officer to use pepper spray, Nystedt said, "that is a second application [of force.]"

Nystedt said a single incident could call for the use of three different applications of force.

Multiple investigations ongoing within force

Several investigations about the conduct of Ottawa police are still ongoing.

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit — which investigates cases of death, serious injury or sexual assault involving police — is looking into case of Stacy Bonds, who was kneed and strip-searched while in police custody in 2008.

The Bonds case also sparked a review of the police's cellblock procedures and several other cases, which is being done by the Ontario Provincial Police.

And the force's own professional standards section is running a separate investigation after a video was posted online last week showing a police officer throwing at least two punches at a suspect in Ottawa's Byward Market area.