Public Complaints About the Conduct of Ottawa Police Officers Have Risen Sharply

Seventy complaints were filed about the Ottawa Police Service in the third quarter of 2016, up from 30 during the same period last year.

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Oct 21 2016, 7:24pm

People assemble to honour Abdirahman Abdi in a protest at Ottawa police headquarters on Saturday, July 30, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand

The number of public complaints filed about the conduct of, or service provided by, Ottawa police officers jumped by 133 percent in the third quarter of 2016, according to a report from the Chief of the Ottawa Police Service that was removed from a city website after VICE News inquired about it.

One of the largest municipal forces in the country has come under intense scrutiny in recent months after one man died following a violent arrest by police, and a separate officer made racist comments about an Inuit woman whose body was found in the Rideau river.

The spike in complaints cover the same time period as those controversies, July to September of 2016. A total of 70 public complaints about the Ottawa police were received during those months, compared with 30 during the same period in 2015. Of the 70 complaints referred to in the chief's report, 67 involved the conduct of Ottawa police officers.

The report shows that in the third quarter of 2016 excessive force complaints rose by 80 percent (from five to nine); improper conduct complaints by 40.3 percent (62 to 87); neglect of duty complaints by 100 percent (9 to 18) and firearm discharge complaints increased from zero to two.

Internal complaints about the Ottawa Police Service, called Chief's complaints, are also tallied in the report and refer to internally-initiated allegations of misconduct or violations of police policies. For the period in question, 49 Chief's complaints were initiated compared with 47 in 2015.

Ottawa Police did not immediately respond to questions about the report.

Read More: Fatal Police Beating Of Somali Canadian Abdirahman Abdi Raises Alarming Questions

Danielle Robitaille, Counsel to the Independent Reviewer for the Independent Police Oversight Review that is currently holding public consultations about police conduct in Ontario cities, sees the increase in complaints as potentially a good thing.

"We are seeing a growing awareness that members of the public are entitled to complain about the police, and that if they have an interaction with an officer that leaves them dissatisfied, that there are mechanisms to address that," said Robitaille in a phone call.

The report shows that in some cases, Ottawa Police are dealing with the complaints quickly.

Of the 116 conduct complaints filed with the OPS in Q3 2016, 48 were deemed to be "frivolous, vexations, [initiated] by a third party that was not affected" or were filed more than six months after the events that led to the complaint occurred and were dismissed without further action being taken.

Of the remainder, 59 are classified as "ongoing", six led to "informal discipline" against officers and three were withdrawn by the person who made the complaint.

The report also reveals that despite the number of complaints filed in the third quarters of both 2015 and 2016, none of the complaints resulted in disciplinary hearings for officers.

Ottawa Police have faced criticism recently after a series of high-profile incidents involving officers.

In July, an unarmed black man, Abdirahman Abdi, died after an altercation with two officers. Several witnesses to the struggle claim that the officers used excessive force on Abdi, while footage of part of the incident was shared widely on social media, sparking protests and condemnation from Abdi's family and Black Lives Matter activists. The Special Investigations Unit, which handles cases of severe injury, sexual assault or death that involve police, is now investigating Abdi's death.

In September, Ottawa police launched an internal investigation against a sergeant who posted racially charged comments on Facebook about Annie Pootoogook, an Inuk woman who had been found dead in the Rideau river.

In light of such controversies, Robitaille says that citizens' filing of complaints against police when they feel that misconduct has occurred is more important than ever.

"The oversight system depends on people lodging complaints," says Robitaille.

"[It's] an altruistic thing to do because at the end of the day, there's no financial reward for [complaining] about police misconduct. The system depends on people to hold police officers to account."

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