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Screen grab from CCTV of Willow Kinloch a Victoria teen who filed a civil lawsuit over her treatment while in custody in 2005. Surveillance video shows a guard grabbing Willow Kinloch by the neck and pushing her towards the back wall of a holding cell. Two male officers then enter the cell and force Kinloch, now 18, to the ground. The officers then handcuff Kinloch, tie up her feet and leave her tethered to the cell door. (Globe files/Globe files)
Screen grab from CCTV of Willow Kinloch a Victoria teen who filed a civil lawsuit over her treatment while in custody in 2005. Surveillance video shows a guard grabbing Willow Kinloch by the neck and pushing her towards the back wall of a holding cell. Two male officers then enter the cell and force Kinloch, now 18, to the ground. The officers then handcuff Kinloch, tie up her feet and leave her tethered to the cell door. (Globe files/Globe files)

Victoria jails overcrowded, report says Add to ...

The Victoria Police Department's jails are overcrowded with intoxicated prisoners, relied upon as an overflow facility for the provincial justice system and staffed by officers who lack the resources and sometimes the training to do their jobs.

Those are among the findings of a report into the department's use-of-force tactics and cellblock operations, released Friday, that identifies multiple problems in the way prisoners are dealt with by the detachment when they are taken into custody.

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The report, penned by retired Ottawa police chief Vince Bevan, says Victoria houses female prisoners for extended periods of time due to the lack of a provincial jail for women on Vancouver Island, and also accepts about 100 prisoners a year from the neighbouring Saanich Police Department. In one case referred to in the report, a female prisoner spent 13 days in Victoria police custody.

"The situation with that individual … I think is a big red flag," Mr. Bevan said. "The facility is not designed to house people in that way."

However, Victoria Police Chief Jamie Graham said denying other agencies the use of Victoria police cells is a complicated proposition. "We're a big region and if we absolutely shut our doors tomorrow then we put other agencies that we rely on at high risk themselves," he said.

Victoria's jail cells can accommodate a maximum of 30 prisoners at any given time, the report says. Victoria police processed more than 7,300 prisoners in 2009.

The department arrests more than 2,200 people a year for public intoxication - about 30 per cent of all in-custody cases - yet the city's sobering centre a few blocks away regularly refuses to accept people deemed too inebriated for the centre's staff to deal with, Mr. Bevan said.

The report calls on Victoria police to apply for provincial permission, under the B.C. Offences Act, to force chronic alcoholics into treatment, a policy that has been adopted by a handful of other police forces, including Abbotsford, Richmond and Vancouver.

Chief Graham hired Mr. Bevan to conduct the review last April, following a string of high-profile use-of-force incidents, including the alleged assault of a prisoner by Sergeant George Chong, a senior cellblock supervisor who had been convicted of an off-duty assault a year earlier.

The review was also prompted by the 2005 tethering of teenager Willow Kinloch to the door of her jail cell, and a disturbing YouTube video of a VPD officer kicking a man during an arrest outside a downtown bar last March.

Chief Graham declined to comment on specific cases, citing his role as disciplinary authority in the YouTube incident, which is being investigated by Vancouver police, and the alleged assault by Mr. Chong, who has pleaded not guilty and is due to go on trial next spring.

Both cases are also the subject of ongoing civil lawsuits.

While Mr. Bevan also refused to comment on specific cases that are under investigation, the report calls on Victoria police to ensure that "appropriate care is taken to select the right people for the job as jail guards."

However, the report contained few direct recommendations on improving Victoria's use-of-force policies and placed a great deal of emphasis on training, reporting and administrative issues.

Some of the report's 80 recommendations - for example, covering the entire cellblock in rubber flooring to reduce injuries - are already being implemented. The department installed some rubber flooring in response to recommendations stemming from the case of former Camosun College student Thomas Mackay, who suffered serious head injuries during a jailhouse scuffle in 2004.

Both Chief Graham and Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin refrained from making firm commitments to Mr. Bevan's recommendations, citing the need to meet with police board members and discuss the findings with the detachment's community partners.

"Come and ask us in a month or two and we'll have a better idea of what we can do," Mr. Fortin said.

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