Semi-automatic handguns were pulled on cops in London twice as many times in 2012 as in 2011.
According to an annual report on the use of force by the London Police Service, officers engaged a suspect that presented a semi-automatic pistol eight times in 2012, compared to four times in 2011.
That figure, presented to the London Police Services Board Wednesday (Feb. 13), only includes times when an officer had to use force, a definition that includes among many other possible actions the drawing, pointing and/or firing of their own sidearm. It does not include weapons that were seized as part of a raid, for example.
It’s part of a “very concerning” trend in this city and across Ontario, one that has closely traced the proliferation of the drug trade, according to Chief Brad Duncan.
“We know that handguns are being carried more frequently, especially by those involved in the drug trade,” he told London Community News. “It’s always a concern for our drug officers and quite frankly our officers on the street. I’ve been in this work for 33 years and I can tell you that when I started on the street it would be extremely unusual for us to come across a handgun. Now it’s not an infrequent occurrence.”
Duncan said “hundreds” of other weapons have been taken off London streets by the LPS in the last two or three years.
“How many times are we involved in situations where for whatever reason that suspect does not choose to show the firearm but is still armed?” he explained. “And how many times, as evidenced by our news conference last week are we entering into residences, apartments or motor vehicles where often times drugs and guns co-exist?”
According to the use of force statistics, the “location of a subject’s weapon” was described as “in-hand” 16 times, “at-hand” 17 times and “concealed on subject” nine times.
“That’s the subculture and that’s also concerning because that amount has really escalated over the years,” he said. “That’s why we’re in the position where we have funding from the provincial government that allows us to compliment our guns and drugs unit with more officers.”
He said in the 1980s police officers were mainly concerned speed, which he described as the main drug on the street then, and with marijuana, hash and LSD. In the 1990s cocaine took centre stage, followed by designer drugs such as ecstasy.
“That’s when we started seeing the escalation in terms of drug dealing and the firearms,” he said. “The weapons start to come forward. I can recall an incident just blocks away from the police station where we actually had a shootout back and forth across the street involving rival drug dealers.”
After the turn of the millennium, gang activity migrated up and down the 401 corridor increasing again the proliferation of weapons.
“So there has been a steady increase in terms of how the drug trades evolved and now you only have to look at some of the videos available (online) where they engage that kind of mentality of the showing and the use of firearms. It’s here, it’s in London the same as everywhere else.”
As a member of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) Duncan has advocated for more funding for similar programs.
“We know the guns are out there.”
According to the report, several actions require an officer to submit a Use of Force report: drawing their service pistol or any other firearm in the presence of a member of the public, pointing a firearm at a person, discharging a firearm, using any other weapon on a person or using physical force that results in an injury requiring medical attention.
In 2012, 211 such reports were filed compared to 207 in 2011, fewer than the five-year average of 239.
Among those incidents, 49 times a person required medical attention (that includes officers), an increase from 37 in 2011. Pare noted that in 30 of the cases, the injuries were minor. Forty-five of the incidents where force was used involved the dispatching of an animal, which account for every round discharged by an on-duty officer.
No one shot at officers in London in 2012 either.
Tasers, or conducted energy weapons, were used 16 times in 2012 (13 in 2011) again below the five-year average of 25.