Ottawa police to re-train special constables

The Ottawa police force is planning to re-train its 64 special constables on the use of force following the release of two cellblock videos that show officers kicking or kneeing people in custody.

Training to focus on use of force after 2 high-profile cases draw criticism

The Ottawa police force is planning to re-train its 64 special constables on the use of force following the release of two cellblock videos that show officers kicking or kneeing people in custody.

Special Const. Melanie Morris, who has worked with the Ottawa police for six years and is currently on administrative leave, is shown in both videos.

In the first video from 2008, Morris is seen kneeing 27-year-old Stacy Bonds before she is forced to the ground and strip-searched. In the second video, from 2009, Morris appears to kick a homeless man, Terry Delay, as he's put into a jail cell.

Special constables are civilians sworn in as peace officers by the chief of police. While there is a competitive five-step process to becoming a special constable, CBC News has learned the constables only receive one week of training. Just one day of that training is devoted to use of force, with a "refresher" once a year.

The force has decided to add about 20 hours of additional training for the special constables, mainly in the area of the use of force, said Deputy Chief Gilles Larochelle.

The new training will likely take place in January, and the police department will continue to use special constables in the meantime.

"To immediately move to another way of doing business would have a severe impact on this organization," Larochelle said.

Oversight of special constables questioned

The charges against Bonds and Delay were stayed, with the judge in Bonds's case saying she had been arrested "unlawfully" and that her treatment by police was "a travesty" and "appalling."

Ontario's Special Investigations Unit — a civilian organization that reviews serious injury, death and sexual assault cases involving police — is looking into the Bonds case. But under the province's Police Services Act, it has no jurisdiction over special constables.

Ottawa Police Services Board member Maria McRae told CBC News Network that no one appears to have authority over the constables.

"In the case of a special constable, there is no higher authority governing body to look at that … there's no legislation in place for that," McRae said.

However, the Police Services Act does give the Ontario Civilian Police Commission explicit power to investigate the actions of a special constable, either on its own or at the request of a city council or other public body.

According to the act, the commission can order the police force to demote or even dismiss a special constable.

Still, not everyone is clear about that.

"Well, there's certainly a question as to what their duties should be under the Police Services Act and who they should be accountable to," said Ron Bain, who heads the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.

Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson said he will also push the province to increase oversight of special constables.

"I'm hoping that I can be able to use my influence to get the message through that this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed," Watson said.

The mayor said he will start by corresponding with Jim Bradley, Ontario's minister of community safety and correctional services.