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Police complaints up from 2010: LERA

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The province's Law Enforcement Review Agency recently released its 2011 annual report.

In that year it handled 169 formal citizen complaints against police, up from 140 in 2010.

LERA says the most common complaint is the use of unnecessary or excessive force, although despite the rise in complaints in 2011, there continues to be a significant drop in these kinds of complaints over the past few years.

Here are some of the stats from the report: (The full report is here.)

LERA's jurisdiction extends to 12 Manitoba police services with 1,618 police officers. Total population served is 767,653.

  • Winnipeg Police Service accounts for 88 per cent of complaints made to LERA. Brandon Police Service accounts for seven per cent and other services account for the remainder.
  • There were 260 files opened in 2011, down by six complaints in 2010. The five-year average is 277 new files per year.
  • The number of formal complaints filed (169) is up from 140 formal complaints in 2010.
  • Ninety-one complaints were resolved at intake or after preliminary enquiries compared to 126 in 2010.
  • In 2010, there were 274 total investigations. There were also 274 investigations in 2011.
  • There was a decrease in the number of investigations completed in 2011, down by five files, to 166 investigations completed in 2011.
  • There has been an increase in the number of allegations of disciplinary defaults in three of the main categories: abuse of authority; using oppressive or abusive conduct or language; using unnecessary violence or excessive force.
  • There were no complaints alleging the misuse of pepper spray in 2011.
  • There were three complaints of misuse of the Taser.
  • There were 12 incidents alleging misuse of handcuffs in 2011, down one from 2010.
  • Incidents alleging injuries from the use of force increased to 70 from 66 in 2010. Allegations of injuries were made in 41 per cent of complaints investigated.

The annual report also includes a snapshot of some complaints made against police. Here are a few:

 

  • A man was upstairs at a friend's place when officers came to the door. When the door was opened upstairs, the police officers heard a person say they could not come in without a warrant. Eventually, the partner of the person who owned the house let the police in. The police searched and at first could not find the complainant but then brought a dog in to find him. The dog pulled the complainant out from hiding and the complainant said the dog bit him. The complainant said the officers then began kicking him, causing injuries.

After an investigation the commissioner determined that there was not sufficient evidence substantiating the complainant's allegations to warrant a hearing and declined to take further action on the file.

 

  • The police raided a man's house looking for drugs. The raid was a result of pictures on Facebook of the complainant's older son with a shotgun and a huge pile of cash. The complainant's son does not live with him. The man said the police dragged him outside by the hair and that he was only wearing underwear. He also said the police needlessly damaged his garage to get inside, after he had told them he had a key for it. He said they also searched his truck without a proper warrant. No drugs were found and no charges were laid. The man said he was treated in this manner because the police thought he was Aboriginal.

After an investigation the commissioner determined that there was not sufficient evidence substantiating the complainant's allegations to warrant a hearing and declined to take further action on the file.

 

  • A man was standing at a convenience store waiting for a cab to take him home when two police cars came into the parking lot. The police arrested him for being drunk in a public place. The man was searched and handcuffed. He said he was arrested without reasonable grounds.

The commissioner declined to take further action because there was insufficient evidence to justify a public hearing. The man asked to have a provincial judge review the commissioner's decision.
DECISION: The judge held that the commissioner had not made an error by not taking further action on this complaint.

 

  • A woman was allegedly caught shoplifting at a grocery store. The police were called and they arrested her. She stumbled several times when the police were taking her to the police car. She said the police officers would not slow down so she could walk and she struggled with them to keep from being dragged. She said the handcuffs were put on too tight; that the police officer made comments about her past history with the law; called her a "criminal;" and was verbally abusive.

The commissioner declined to take further action because there was insufficient evidence to justify a public hearing. The woman asked to have a provincial judge review the commissioner's decision.
DECISION: The provincial judge ordered that the complaint be returned to LERA for further investigation.
The investigation was re-opened as directed by the provincial judge which resulted in no new evidence supporting the complaint. The matter was closed.

 

  • Police officers went to a residence with a warrant for a man's arrest. The man saw the police coming and hid in the attic of the house. The police found the man, handcuffed and arrested him. The man said the police repeatedly slapped, kicked and punched him before they took him to the police station. At the station, the man was put in an interview room. He said the officers used threats to make him give a written statement and made him sign it. He said they told him he did not need to call a lawyer. The man said the officers were rude and used excessive force in trying to get him to provide the statement.

The commissioner declined to take further action because there was insufficient evidence to justify a public hearing. The man asked to have a provincial judge review the commissioner's decision.
DECISION: The complainant's lawyer appeared before the judge advising his client wished to withdraw the complaint.

 

  • A man was detained for approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes under The Intoxicated Persons Detention Act. The man said that he was kidnapped by police, unreasonably searched, arbitrarily detained and denied his right to counsel. The man was also concerned that there would be a record of his arrest and he wanted any such record destroyed. The officers said that they were responding to a complaint of a disturbance. They said that the man was detained while fleeing the scene of a disturbance. The officers said that the man appeared to be intoxicated by alcohol and was not properly clothed for the very cold weather. The officers said that they detained the man for his own safety and read him his Charter rights, but the man declined his right to contact a lawyer.

The commissioner declined to take further action because there was insufficient evidence to justify a public hearing. The man asked to have a provincial judge review the commissioner's decision.
DECISION: The provincial judge held that the commissioner had not made an error by not taking further action on this complaint.

 

  • The police went to a residence looking for a man who had two outstanding arrest warrants. The man was alleged to have left threatening messages on his ex-girlfriends voice mail. The man had a history of violent offences with weapons, including firearms. The police found him at the residence and arrested him. While the police were taking the man to the police car, there was a physical confrontation and the complainant said the officers verbally berated him while driving to the police station. He said the abuse continued at the police station; that the police used unnecessary violence; and that he had suffered minor injuries.

The commissioner referred this complaint to a hearing and the judge referred the matter back to LERA for an informal resolution.
The complaint was resolved informally between the officers and the complainant.

 

  • Two men were going home after work in the early morning. The driver stopped to let his friend out of the car when they heard a siren. They said they were surrounded by police vehicles, officers with guns drawn and police dogs. They said the police were yelling orders at them and using bad language. When the two men got out of their car, they said the police told them to lie on the ground. When they lay down on the ground, one of the men said he was hit on the head. Both men made complaints to LERA.

LERA found that the officers had been investigating a complaint of armed robbery in the area. The suspects and the vehicle they were looking for closely matched the two complainants and their car. The officers said that once they realized the men were not involved in the robbery, they released them.
The complaint was resolved informally between the officers and the two men.

 

  • A man was riding in a friend's car when the vehicle was pulled over by the police. The man tried to place a small amount of drugs between the seats when the police officers drew their guns and said to put his hands up. He said the police pulled him out of the car and started kicking and punching him, causing several injuries. He also said an officer used a taser on his lower back. The police then called an ambulance for the complainant. The man admitted being on methamphetamines at the time of the incident. He was arrested and charged with various trafficking offences.

Officer Misconduct: three police officers
Allegations: abuse of authority by using unnecessary violence or excessive force
Disposition: The complainant withdrew his complaint before the hearing.

 

  • A couple was having a housewarming party in the backyard. The police went in response to a complaint about noise. The officers asked the husband for identification and requested he turn the music down. The husband did not provide ID when asked and said that since it was still early in the evening, they did not have to be quiet. The officer arrested the man for breach of the peace because he refused to comply with the police request. The couple said one of the officers threatened them with a Taser while they were wet. They also complained that the officers threatened them in front of their guests. The officers said they felt threatened by the complainants and called for police backup to help them shut down the party.

Officer Misconduct: one police officer
Allegations: abuse of authority by making an arrest without reasonable or probable grounds
Officer Misconduct: three police officers
Allegations: abuse of authority by using oppressive or abusive conduct or language; and abuse of authority by being discourteous or uncivil
Disposition: The judge, while attempting to set a hearing date, received no response from the complainant, so the matter was closed as abandoned.

 

  • A man was driving his vehicle when another vehicle pulled up beside him on the roadway. The man alleged that the driver of the other vehicle flashed a badge of some sort, yelled at the man, used intemperate language, and then sped away. The driver of the other vehicle was an off-duty police officer.

Officer Misconduct: one police officer
Allegations: abuse of authority, by using oppressive or abusive conduct or language; and abuse of authority by being discourteous or uncivil
Disposition: The allegations were dismissed by the Judge, finding in favour of the officer who had made a motion for dismissal based on his assertion that he was off duty at the time. As a result, the Commissioner, under The Law Enforcement Review Act didn't have the jurisdiction to refer the matter to a public hearing.

  • A man took part in a special event that involved a bicycle ride with a police escort. After the ride, the man and other participants were arrested and then released. A few days later, the complainant contacted police to discuss some property he said was missing after the arrest. He posted information about the incident on his blog. Several days later, police contacted the man's boss and released details of the arrest and their concerns that the man had breached the employer's code of conduct.

The commissioner was concerned that the information was improperly disclosed to the employer. He wrote to the chief of the police agency requesting that all members of the police service be reminded of their obligation to only disclose information received in their capacity as police officers when required for police purposes.
The police agency responded, saying that the information had been forwarded to the training unit to ensure that new recruits and current members are aware of their responsibilities.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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About Larry Kusch and Bruce Owen

Larry Kusch has been a journalist for 30 years, the last 20 with the Winnipeg Free Press. His is one of the newspaper's two legislative bureau reporters.

Raised on a Saskatchewan farm, he received an honours journalism degree from Carleton University in 1975.

At the Free Press, Larry has also worked as a general assignment reporter, business reporter, copy editor and assistant city editor.

Bruce Owen joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1990 after four years working in other media.

He's worked in a number of positions at the Freep, including pet columnist, assistant city editor and police reporter. Right now he takes up space at the Manitoba legislature.

Bruce is one of five reporters who won a National Newspaper Award for the paper’s coverage of the 1997 Flood of the Century. He's also the recipient of the 1996 Volunteer Centre of Winnipeg Media Golden Hand Award and the 1995 Canadian Federation of Humane Societies Media Commendation Award.

In a past life Bruce worked at YMCA-YWCA Camp Stephens. He has a blog where he and others write about camp and the people who worked and played there.

You can also find Bruce on Twitter where he posts and retweets all sorts of stuff.

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