Ottawa Police Use of Force

September 8, 2013

A cell phone video surfaced today of an interaction between the Ottawa police and an individual on the nighttime streets of Ottawa.  The video depicts an officer tackling a man.  Two other officers quickly arrive and hold the male on the street.  The tackling officer then administers multiple blows the the males head.

This video is shocking.  The CBC and the Ottawa Citizen covered the story today and I provided comment

Video footage always captures only a part of any interaction.  Context can often be lost in short video clips.  In this case it is alleged that the male was assaultive toward staff at a nearby bar and that he punched a police officer.  Although the video depicts a short portion of the incident, in this case there is enough context to paint a disturbing picture.

The actions of the male prior to being assaulted by the officers are largely irrelevant.    Regardless of what bad act occurred earlier three police officers had taken control of the male.  After the male is thrown to the ground he does not appear to continue aggressiveness – in fact he appears to grab his head and turtle.  Three officers are seen to be on top of the male.  The male is not hand cuffed; he is not arrested.  It is at this point that male is assaulted.  

It is while being held by two officers than an other officer delivers multiple blows to the males head.  The male appears to offer no defence and yet the blows continue.  The multiple blows delivered by the police officer cross the line.  This police action is gratuitous, retributive, and illegal.

The police in assaulting this male were not acting in self defence, the violence was not necessary to fulfil their duties.  Quite simply, this was not acceptable use of force.

The Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof said:

“officer criminally assaulted, use of force completely justified, video depicts only second half of Incident as usual”

It is regrettable that Mr. Skof misses the point.  An assault on a police officer does not in and of itself justify the use of force seen in this video.  Police are not mandated to dispense punishment or use violence as retribution. 

Mr. Skof saw the same video I saw.  It is shocking that he would dismiss this police conduct.  The video is disturbing and at the very least should generate deep concern.  

Police are imbued with extraordinary powers and must be held to the highest of standards.  As a wise man once said, with great power there comes great responsibility.

Mr. Skof’s views are irresponsible but that pales in comparision to the questions that this video raises.  It must be taken most seriously.