'What the police can do is limited': Use of force debate sparked by Saskatoon arrest video clouds bigger picture, expert says
SASKATOON -- A University of Saskatchewan policing and surveillance expert cautions people against thinking that normal police use of force is automatically acceptable.
“We have to separate what we want the police response to be within our community and what may be the norm now,” said Scott Thompson, assistant professor in the Department of Sociology.
Thompson made the comments following the controversial arrest of Evan Penner, who told CTV News he was using a garden hose in front of an apartment building to cool off when police tried to arrest him.
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A video of Penner's arrest was released on Monday by the Indigenous Joint Action Coalition and Black Lives Matter Saskatoon, with members of the two groups alleging that excessive force was used. In photos taken on Wednesday, Penner can be seen with a bruised right eye with scrapes and bruises on the right side of his forehead, cheekbone and ear.
Saskatoon Police Services (SPS) has said the initial officer on-scene was responding to a report of a suspicious person. The 27-year-old man reportedly had caused damage to a property and when the officer attempted to take him into custody, he resisted and attempted to disarm the officer, SPS said.
Thompson also said the Saskatoon Police Association (SPA) has been defensive in its response to the public outcry over the video.
The SPA said in a recent Facebook post Canadian police are being scrutinized because of incidents that have occurred in the United States.
“Canadian police officers should not be compared to officers in the US. We are well-trained, we have forged important relationships within the community, and we are well compensated. For these reasons, we attract more qualified officers; oftentimes with college degrees and valuable life experiences.”
Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has been the subject of national fury in America since footage emerged of him kneeling on Black man George Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd begged him to stop.
Floyd’s death sparked national and international protests – with American police sometimes filmed acting violently in response - and debates over the role of police in communities.
In the post, the SPA alleged Penner attempted to flee from the backyard and a confrontation ensued. The SPA says Penner grabbed the officer’s Taser, breaking the officer’s duty belt. After pepper spray was ineffective, Penner struck the officer in the face and attempted to bite him, then ripped both ammunition magazines off the officer's belt and tried to hit the offer with it.
“Possibly one of the most controversial issues in policing today is the proper application of force,” the SPA said in its Facebook post.
“Most people in the public have never been involved in an actual physical confrontation with another person. Society’s perception of police use of force is often tainted through the media, television and movies. Rarely do any of these accurately show reality.”
The SPA said the public will be less safe if officers are hesitant to go to calls and if officers hesitate at calls where they must make quick decisions.
However, Thompson said what’s getting lost is the question of whether a better solution to the problem exists.
“It brings us back to the core question of those pushing for defunding police, of asking the question, are we asking the police to do too much right now? What the police can do is limited - they can arrest someone or move them down the block and none of those solutions solve the problem the person had of needing to have a shower.
“The fact (the police association is) pushing back and saying force was justified in this situation is not addressing the issue that bringing the police officer to the situation is actually escalating or could have led to the result of the need of the use of force. It could be that another person would be better versed in dealing with someone and working to solve the problems that individual has.”
The fact that the SPA claims this was the third time officers dealt with Penner in the same day shows there’s a need that isn’t being met by the community, Thompson said.
Penner told CTV News he “was perfectly normal, positive and calm all the time."
The arrest is to be investigated by the Saskatchewan Public Complaints Commission.
With files from CNN