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Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers drew their weapons 500 times in encounters with unarmed civilians in three years, and nearly 1,500 people were sent to hospital after interactions with officers in that same period, according to the force’s internal data.

The incidents, which took place from 2017 to 2019, are detailed in the force’s Subject Behaviour/Officer Response (SBOR) database. The RCMP shared reports from the database after a request from The Globe and Mail, offering a rare glimpse into how the Mounties deploy force in the line of duty.

Total intervention methods employed by the RCMP, 2017-2019

8,542

Firearm

1

Physical control

4,203

3,512

Taser

Police dog

2,393

Hard takedowns

1,461

Pepper spray

983

Baton

148

2

ERIWs

128

1. Includes hard takedowns.

2. Extended Range Impact Weapons.

the globe and mail, source: rcmp

Total intervention methods employed by the RCMP, 2017-2019

8,542

Firearm

1

Physical control

4,203

3,512

Taser

Police dog

2,393

Hard takedowns

1,461

Pepper spray

983

Baton

148

2

ERIWs

128

1. Includes hard takedowns.

2. Extended Range Impact Weapons.

the globe and mail, source: rcmp

Total intervention methods employed by the RCMP, 2017-2019

8,542

Firearm

1

Physical control

4,203

3,512

Taser

Police dog

2,393

Hard takedowns

1,461

983

Pepper spray

148

Baton

2

ERIWs

128

1. Includes hard takedowns.

2. Extended Range Impact Weapons.

the globe and mail, source: rcmp

More than 15,000 incidents were catalogued in the three-year period. Officers’ use of force was serious enough to send a subject to hospital roughly 20 per cent of the time, while officers themselves sustained injury in roughly 15 per cent of incidents.

For years, the RCMP have resisted calls to make reports from the database – which is used internally to inform training and use of force policies – public. The release comes amid scrutiny on how police officers use force against Black, Indigenous, racialized people and those experiencing mental-health crises. A series of deaths after interactions with law enforcement, including the RCMP, have led to calls to defund the police.

While the database tracks multiple factors when force is used against a civilian – everything from whether the scene was foggy during the interaction, to the number of firearm rounds fired – it does not capture racial data. Public Safety Minister Bill Blair has repeatedly promised he will require that information to be collected.

The database tracks individuals showing signs of being “emotionally disturbed” – a category that includes those in the midst of a mental-health episode – RCMP research notes that 80 per cent of people that fall into that category are under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Intervention methods employed by the RCMP, where the subject was perceived to be "emotionally disturbed"

TOTAL, 2017-2019

Firearm total

27%

Firearm (drawn

and pointed)

18.7

Physical control

25.5

TASER (deployed)

17.9

Police dog

4.2

Other

25.4

the globe and mail, source: rcmp

Intervention methods employed by the RCMP, where the subject was perceived to be "emotionally disturbed"

TOTAL, 2017-2019

Firearm total

27%

Firearm (drawn

and pointed)

18.7

Physical control

25.5

TASER (deployed)

17.9

Police dog

4.2

Other

25.4

the globe and mail, source: rcmp

Intervention methods employed by the RCMP, where the subject was perceived to be "emotionally disturbed"

TOTAL, 2017-2019

Firearm total

27%

Firearm (drawn and pointed)

18.7

Physical control

25.5

TASER (deployed)

17.9

Police dog

4.2

Other

25.4

the globe and mail, source: rcmp

Percentage of intervention methods employed by the RCMP, by perceived mental state of the subject, 2017-2019

Subject perceived to be "emotionally disturbed"

Subject not perceived to be "emotionally disturbed"

Taser

51.4%

48.6%

Baton

41.0

59.0

Pepper spray

31.4

67.6

Hard takedowns

35.7

64.3

Physical control*

29.2

70.7

Firearms (pointed

at subject)

16.5

83.5

Police dog (bite)

8.6

91.4

*Includes hard takedowns.

the globe and mail, source: rcmp

Percentage of intervention methods employed by the RCMP, by perceived mental state of the subject, 2017-2019

Subject perceived to be "emotionally disturbed"

Subject not perceived to be "emotionally disturbed"

Taser

51.4%

48.6%

Baton

41.0

59.0

Pepper spray

31.4

67.6

Hard takedowns

35.7

64.3

Physical control*

29.2

70.7

Firearms (pointed

at subject)

16.5

83.5

Police dog (bite)

8.6

91.4

*Includes hard takedowns.

the globe and mail, source: rcmp

Percentage of intervention methods employed by the RCMP, by perceived mental state of the subject, 2017-2019

Subject perceived to be "emotionally disturbed"

Subject not perceived to be "emotionally disturbed"

Taser

51.4%

48.6%

Baton

41.0

59.0

Pepper spray

31.4

67.6

Hard takedowns

35.7

64.3

Physical control*

29.2

70.7

Firearms (pointed

at subject)

16.5

83.5

Police dog (bite)

8.6

91.4

*Includes hard takedowns.

the globe and mail, source: rcmp

The data show physical interventions such as tackles and kicks were the largest single cause for injuries, but were generally effective at ending a confrontation – meaning no further force was required to make an arrest or get a situation under control. Tactics that put more distance between an officer and an individual, such as pepper spray or tasers, were less effective but resulted in dramatically fewer injuries for civilians and officers alike.

An RCMP presentation summing up some of the force’s findings from the database reports that use of force is “slightly less effective” on emotionally disturbed persons and that the “risk of injury slightly increases” with respect to the civilian, while the risk of injury to the officer tends to significantly increase.

Broadly, when officers encountered armed subjects, the numbers show they try various non-lethal types of force – it doesn’t always work, however. In some 95 per cent of cases where a subject is armed, officers draw their weapons. The data also show police draw their weapons in about one in five instances where the subject is perceived to be in distress, or “emotionally disturbed.”

The RCMP have moved to publish more data about their use of force: Recently released figures show the number of police shootings have risen steadily in recent years. The data show that 67 people have been shot and killed by the RCMP since 2010: That rise has fuelled calls to improve independent oversight, prioritize less-lethal intervention options, and even to defund the police outright. Over the same period, 19 officers were shot in the line of duty, four fatally.

Officers are trained under the force’s “Incident Management Intervention Model,” which instructs officers to deploy only the force necessary to control the situation. Sergeant Sam Tease of the National Police Intervention Unit said these data tend to show that their training is effective and that even if an officer’s firearm is drawn, “they’re obviously engaging with communication, crisis intervention, de-escalation techniques and bringing the situation under control by a lesser means than obviously discharging a firearm.”

Should a suspect passively resist arrest – such as going limp, for example – officers are trained to use low-risk actions, such as applying pressure points or restraining the individual. More active resistance can be met with punches or kicks, or by using a “vascular neck restraint.”

As The Globe reported in June, the RCMP have used the controversial hold dozens of times in recent years. Use of such a neck restraint – sometimes referred to as a “choke hold,” a characterization the RCMP reject – involves applying pressure to the carotid arteries in the neck, which can incapacitate someone or even knock them unconscious.

The RCMP have put the tactic under review since George Floyd was killed last year by Minneapolis police after officers applied pressure to Mr. Floyd’s neck akin to the vascular neck restraint the RCMP use. There have been growing calls for police to ban the restraint outright.

The data, however, show that RCMP use of the technique causes comparably few serious injuries. The SBOR system reports only four cases where “carotid control/vascular neck restraint” caused injury serious enough to require hospitalization, or about 5 per cent of total cases. Compared with the 325 cases where Mounties performed a “takedown” – or tackle – of an individual, the person sustained an injury requiring a hospital visit more than 20 per cent of the time.

The database also sheds light on the use of “conducted energy weapons,” known more generally by the brand name Taser, marketed as a less-lethal use of force option. It shows that tasers generally carry very low injury rates. In more than 1,600 uses, tasers caused or contributed to hospitalization in 113 cases.

Percentage of intervention methods employed by the RCMP that led to hospital admissions

51.3%

Police dog bite

15.4

Takedowns

1

Physical control

13

2

ERIWs

9.6

Baton

4.8

Taser

3.1

Pepper spray

1.6

1. Average for all physical-control methods.

2. Extended Range Impact Weapons.

the globe and mail, source: rcmp

Percentage of intervention methods employed by the RCMP that led to hospital admissions

51.3%

Police dog bite

15.4

Takedowns

1

Physical control

13

2

ERIWs

9.6

Baton

4.8

Taser

3.1

Pepper spray

1.6

1. Average for all physical-control methods.

2. Extended Range Impact Weapons.

the globe and mail, source: rcmp

Percentage of intervention methods employed by the RCMP that led to hospital admissions

51.3%

Police dog bite

15.4

Takedowns

1

Physical control

13

2

ERIWs

9.6

Baton

4.8

Taser

3.1

Pepper spray

1.6

1. Average for all physical-control methods.

2. Extended Range Impact Weapons.

the globe and mail, source: rcmp

“Our whole focus is evidence-based decision-making, improvements to the policy, training, equipment and improving public safety,” said Simon Baldwin, manager of the Operational Research Unit, which analyzes the SBOR.

The SBOR database is a core part of “where the operations unit is looking to solve problems or adopt new policy,” Mr. Baldwin said. “It is always based on that data – so it is being used significantly.”

A high rate of injury isn’t necessarily enough to provoke change, however. In the past three years, there were nearly 1,300 cases of RCMP service dogs biting an individual. Of those, more than 50 per cent required treatment in hospital – an injury rate surpassed only by being shot. The frequency of police dog bites has stayed constant over three years.

The data also show clear regional disparities. The RCMP provide local policing services for wide swaths of the country – one in three police officers in Canada are Mounties. On the low end is the Yukon, where officers used force in just 0.04 per cent of interactions. Most other provinces aren’t far off: British Columbia, which has the largest number of RCMP officers, has a use of force rate of about 0.07 percent.

On the high end, however, is the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, where 0.1 per cent and 0.2 per cent of interactions result in the use of force, respectively – meaning that use of force is involved in one out of every 550 times a civilian interacts with an officer.

A number of people have died after interactions with RCMP officers in recent years, many of them Indigenous. Last year, even Michelaine Lahaie, head of the civilian oversight body tasked with investigating complaints regarding RCMP use of force, accepted that there needs to be “greater accessibility, trust and transparency” around those reviews.

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