Use of force involving Calgary police increased slightly in 2023 amid rise in weapons and drug calls

Police vehicles at Calgary Police Service headquarters in Calgary on Thursday, April 9, 2020. Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press

Use of force incidents involving Calgary police officers increased last year, according to a new report, which points to increases in interactions with the public and the crime rate as factors.

The report, which was presented to the Calgary Police Commission at its monthly meeting Wednesday, showed interactions between officers and the public in 2023 reached the highest count since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of the approximately 580,000 interactions, police statistics show 901 resulted in use of force by officers.

“Out of the frequency in which our members are dealing with the public, it’s actually a very small proportion of the time where force is used,” Calgary police deputy chief Chad Tawfik told the commission.

Police had 15,662 more interactions with the public compared with 2022, but 64,964 less interactions compared with 2019.

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Compared to the five-year average, the use of conducted energy weapons increased 41 per cent last year, but almost half of those incidents were warnings only.

The use of dynamic takedowns jumped 50 per cent over the five-year average, used in 367 incidents in 2023.

Officers pointed a firearm 32 times last year, up 54 per cent over the five-year average, which translates to once every two weeks.

Officers reported firing their service weapon five times in 2023.

Meanwhile, police service dogs were used 49 times in 2023, down 27 per cent compared to the average.

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Police officials noted that while use of force reported in 2023 is up over the previous year, the amount of incidents is “on par” with the average over the last five years and below the number reported in 2019.

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The Calgary Police Service highlighted several “situational factors” behind the increase in use of force last year.

Those factors included more weapons present in crime, and a higher volume and severity of violent crime including an eight per cent increase in violent crimes compared to 2022.

The report found incidents involving use of force “typically involve” people experiencing an “elevated level of distress,” and alcohol or drug intoxication.

“The subjects are agitated, assaultive, display unpredictable mood swings, and/or attempt to actively harm or self-harm,” the report noted. “The incidents are volatile and present a need for a fast and safe de-escalation to prevent further injuries or harm to the subject or others.”

The report also noted  75 per cent of people involved in use of force incidents had at least five prior interactions with police.

When asked if there is an “inherent bias” that causes the use of force more often on individuals with a criminal history, Tawfik said somebody’s criminal record isn’t always known prior to an interaction.

“I don’t know if it’s necessarily a straight line to use of force,” Tawfik told the commission. “What it does tell us is that we are more regularly involved in use of force with people who have been through (the criminal justice system) than those who haven’t.”

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Commissioner Heather Campbell asked when the public could expect the results with disaggregated data using race-based demographics.

Tawfik said he expects that data to be available later this year.

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