Handful of Sask. police officers have received multiple complaints 'often about abuse of authority': commission
SASKATOON -- The Saskatchewan Public Complaints Commission (PCC) says there are concerns about a small number of police officers accused of wrongdoing in the course of their duties on multiple occasions.
"The PCC has raised concerns in the past about the inappropriate exercise of police powers and some of these concerns persist," the provincial police oversight agency said in its newly-released 2020-21 report.
"There is a rising concern about a small number of police officers who receive multiple complaints, often about the abuse of their authority," the report said.
The PCC said it feels it appears there "is a lack of serious consequences for the repetition of such behaviours."
The finding is included in the annual report which also documents a 33 per cent bump in the number of complaints filed in relation to municipal police services last year compared to the previous year.
Between April 2020 and March 2021, the PCC received 246 complaints from the public around interactions with police, according to the commission's annual report.
While not all investigations are complete, just three complaints have been substantiated provincially.
The PCC attributes the rise in complaints to the tensions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The PCC has noted a significant number of complaints that can be directly linked to various aspects of the pandemic, such as confrontations between police and those opposed to mask-wearing requirements or other public health measures,” PCC said in its 2020-21 report.
The PCC also notes an increase in the calls for service involving individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, resulting in violent interactions is a growing concern for PCC.
“Others are undoubtedly linked to the addiction crisis in the province—itself compounded by the pandemic. These encounters are distressing for all involved and the PCC continues to encourage increased training in this area for police officers,” according to the report.
The commission said it has increased its staff from three to six investigators, three in both Regina and Saskatoon and with the clear trend showing an increase in public complaints, the PCC said handling all complaints “will remain a challenge.”
Moving forward the commission said it looks forward to the implementation of The Police (Serious Incident Response Team) SIRT Amendment Act, 2021, bringing civilian oversight of splicing in Saskatchewan. It’s expected to be in place by October, according to PCC.
SIRT will be tasked with investigating serious incidents involving any police officers in Saskatchewan. Serious incidents will include sexual assault, serious injury or death, while in police custody or as a result of police actions, the commission said.
The commission reports many of its employees worked from home during the past year due to concerns related to COVID-19 and many interviews were done by telephone as opposed to in person. The commission said these circumstances were less than ideal.
In Saskatoon, 102 complaints were received, including 20 alleging discreditable conduct, 17 alleging neglect of duty, seven alleging improper arrest and five alleging unnecessary violence.
Of the complaints directed against Saskatoon Police Service (SPS), one has been substantiated while the investigations into 39 others have yet to be completed.
According to the report, 33 of the complaints against SPS were unfounded, five were unsubstantiated and nine were withdrawn.
Two complaint files were closed in Saskatoon through informal resolution.
In Regina, 82 complaints were received including 21 alleging discreditable conduct, 14 alleging neglect of duty, five complaints alleging improper arrest and five alleging unnecessary violence.
No complaints against Regina Police Service over the period of April 2020 to March 20201 have been substantiated according to the report.
Seven were unsubstantiated, 26 were unfounded, 10 were withdrawn. Twenty-four investigations have yet to be completed.
Seven complaint files were closed in Regina through informal resolution.