Sask. police watchdog flags 6 cases of unnecessary violence, insubordination in annual report

The latest annual report from Saskatchewan's Public Complaints Commission has uncovered six cases of officers found to be breaking policy while on duty.

Public Complaints Commission also raises concerns about officers entering homes improperly

Saskatchewan's Public Complaints Commission has released its annual report on public complaints made against police. (Hamilton Police Service)

The latest annual report from Saskatchewan's Public Complaints Commission highlights six cases of police officers found to be breaking policy while on duty.

The commission is a civilian-led board that investigates public complaints against municipal police officers.

The report includes six substantiated complaints from April 2018 to March 31, 2019. The offences happened in Regina and Saskatoon, and include discreditable conduct, neglect of duty and unnecessary violence.

The report noted 46 complaints across the province during that time period were unfounded. Another 34 had not been concluded.

The report also flagged concerns about inappropriate arrests and searches, and officers entering homes improperly.

"We are finding that officers, with usually the best will in the world to try to address the situation that's been brought to their attention … [will] overreach with respect to their legal authority to enter the premises," said commission chair Brent Cotter.

The issue can be serious for civilians and police. While people's rights can be violated during a search, breaking the rules can also lead to evidence becoming inadmissible during a trial.

That's important for police services to address, said Cotter, to ensure "that we'll all have confidence that the police will do their jobs well, but also respect the limits of their authority."

The commission noted that police forces are doing a better job of training front-line officers and their supervisors on the rules around entering homes.

'Police jargon'

The report also noted concerns about a lack of detail during report writing, especially when officers have been accused of excessive force.

"Police jargon such as 'subject became assaultative' does not adequately describe the actions which the officer had to overcome," read the report.

Cotter said investigations can vary greatly depending on the circumstances of the case.

"Some of the investigations are relatively straightforward and we get quick access to, sometimes, video or in-car video if it's an incident that occurs when a police officer has stopped somebody in the streets," he said.

"In some cases — for example, where there's the possibility that an officer has overreached and maybe assaulted a person — those tend to be a little bit more in-depth."

Broken teeth

The report also summarized several of its investigations.

One involved a woman had teeth broken, and received cuts to her lip and chin, during an arrest.

The woman ran away from officers after her vehicle's tires had been flattened by a spike belt. The woman had refused to pull over and led police on a chase for several blocks.

She was ordered to stop. As she was in the process of lying on the ground, an officer jumped on her, causing her face to smash into the ground.

The commission said the officers were following the law, but the use of force was unnecessary.

The report noted police didn't know whether the woman was armed and needed to be careful. However, it also said a police dog was on scene, and could have been used in this case.

The report ultimately concluded that formal discipline was not warranted.

Charges without informing prosecutor

In another case, a police officer received a remedial order after starting a criminal charge without talking to a prosecutor first.

The commission was contacted by a police chief after it was found the officer had asked for an arrest warrant in a sexual assault case without going through the right procedures.

The prosecutions division was already investigating the suspect for several other historic sexual assaults.

The commission found the officer was not acting in the best interest of the victim and had a "negative impact on a prosecution."

The report does not say how the officer was punished, but said the matter was handled "in a manner consistent with the public interest."