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One-third of the RCMP’s use-of-force incidents not being reported, documents show

The RCMP is failing to document about one-third of its cases of use of force, internal records show.

Anytime
a Mountie uses force – whether it’s throwing a punch, unleashing pepper
spray or firing a gun – details surrounding the incident are supposed
to be documented in an electronic database using a standard reporting
form.

The RCMP has said capturing such details is necessary to
enhance police accountability, identify trends and assist with training
and policy development.

But an August 2011 audit of the so-called
“Subject Behaviour/Officer Response” reporting system showed a 67 per
cent compliance rate, according to RCMP briefing notes obtained by
Postmedia News. Little changed when a follow-up audit was done this past
spring, officials acknowledged this week.

One briefing note
singled out the lack of compliance in B.C. It stated that there were
“approximately 2,400 unreported use of force incidents annually in ‘E’
division.”

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The results invite speculation that maybe some reports
aren’t being filled out because they involve questionable police
actions, said Micheal Vonn, policy director of the B.C. Civil Liberties
Association, which frequently calls attention to police use-of-force
incidents in the province.

Vonn said while she’s not interested in
making police work more onerous, there is value in collecting this data
for training and other purposes.

“If we are going to have evidence-based policing, we need evidence,” she said.

The
RCMP is “committed to institutionalizing use of force reporting into
its operations,” Sgt. Greg Cox, a spokesman in Ottawa, said in an email
Friday. “As with the introduction of any new process and given the size
of the organization, it takes time to adopt.”

RCMP cadets at the
training depot in Regina are now taught how to complete use-of-force
reports, Cox said. The force has also “increased supervisor
accountability” to ensure members are submitting the reports.

Sgt.
Rob Vermeulen, a spokesman for RCMP’s E-Division in B.C., said in an
email that the value of recording use-of-force data is “undisputed.”

The
lack of full compliance in B.C., he said, is related to the fact that
Mounties in the province use a different computer system (called PRIME)
than the one used by Mounties elsewhere in the country (called PROS).

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The
form available on the PRIME system for recording use-of-force incidents
is limiting and doesn’t allow officers to record all the information
that is required by the national RCMP standard, Vermeulen said.

As
a result, officers are not able to complete the form on the mobile work
stations in their vehicles. Instead, they have to return to the
detachment and log on to a separate system to complete the report.

“We continue to look at ways to make it easier for our officers to complete these reports,” he said.

The
RCMP’s standardized method of recording use-of-force incidents came
into effect in January 2010. Such a system was recommended the previous
year by retired justice Thomas Braidwood, who led a commission of
inquiry into the use of Tasers in B.C.

Under the policy, officers
are required to record details of all cases in which they display or use
“hard” physical control (such as a punch or kick), an intermediate
weapon (such as pepper spray or Taser), or lethal force (such as a
firearm or rifle). They also must record details of all incidents in
which a subject is injured.

Each report must be approved by a supervisor.

A
sampling of completed “Subject Behaviour/Officer Response” forms
obtained through access-to-information legislation shows that officers
are required to answer a variety of questions.

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If a Taser is
fired, for instance, the officer is required to say how far he was
standing from the subject, where on the body the subject was hit, what
he said to the subject, whether the subject was injured, what time of
day it was, what the weather conditions were like, the age and gender of
the subject, and whether the subject was perceived to be under the
influence.

There is also space at the end of the report for the officer to give a full written summary of the entire incident.

A
briefing handbook provided to RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson upon his
appointment in November 2011 stated that “overall acceptance of
(use-of-force reporting) remains an ongoing challenge.”

With 33
per cent of the RCMP’s use-of-force incidents not being reported, “this
will have significant impact (on) the accuracy and integrity of the
proposed annual use of force report,” a briefing note stated.

“Additionally,
over the next few years as reporting compliance increases, it will
appear that the RCMP’s use of force has substantially increased which is
not the case.”

The briefing note stated that senior management in
each division must “emphasize” to all members the importance of
reporting use-of-force incidents and completing the reports in a “timely
manner.”