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Lucki says she’s working to convince federal government to keep controversial neck hold

The head of the RCMP says she’s working to convince the federal government to allow her officers to keep using a controversial neck restraint.

The minister and commissioner are at odds over use-of-force and crowd control techniques used by the Mounties in the wake of a reckoning around policing.

In a mandate letter to RCMP Commissioner Brenda Lucki last year, Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino instructed her to prohibit “the use of neck restraints in any circumstance.”

But Lucki disagrees.

“We should be looking at options to keep people safe without resorting to any of the options on our belt,” she said Monday after a committee meeting on Parliament Hill, referring to where officers keep their guns and Tasers.

“I’m looking at it through the lens of a police officer, and so we are providing briefings and [demonstrations] for the minister. It’s about making evidence based decisions. We have to make sure he has all the evidence.” 

When using a vascular neck restraint, the officer in question compresses the arteries on either side of a person’s neck, causing the person being restrained to slip into unconsciousness.

When used correctly, the restraint doesn’t restrict breathing. While it differs from the hold that killed George Floyd while in police custody in 2020, the carotid restraint — sometimes called a sleeper hold — has come under intense scrutiny since his death, prompting Lucki to review the Mounties’ use of it. 

Several Canadian police forces already don’t use it and a 2020 Washington Post investigation found that of the 65 largest U.S. police departments, 44 prohibit the carotid hold.

“We can’t afford another man dying at the hands of a police officer with no justification. We can’t have any more violations of the public trust,” Art Acevedo, police chief in Houston, told the paper.

Instead of banning the technique, an RCMP spokesperson told CBC last month the force issued new guidance to its officers in November  that “strengthens and clarifies definitions, oversight and accountability measures, the risks of applying the technique on medically high-risk groups, requirements for medical attention, the threshold for use and requirement to recertify annually on the policy regarding application.” 

“We’ve done extensive work in that area to understand the effectiveness and the safety of that particular vascular neck restraint,” said Lucki.

Government sets the mandate: minister 

On Monday, Mendicino suggested to reporters he wasn’t budging on his request to the commissioner. The federal government is also asking the RCMP to ban the use of two crowd-control tools: extended-range impact weapons, which fire foam rounds, and CS gas, a milder gas than tear gas.

When asked what happens if Lucki doesn’t follow the mandate letter, Mendocino said he was confident “we’re going to make good on the mandate,” noting that the government was looking for a “good, frank dialogue” with the RCMP.

The RCMP Act says the commissioner serves “under the direction of the minister” and “has the control and management of the force.”

“Government sets the mandate, the mandate is given to us by the people,” said Mendicino. 

A recent study in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine published last fall about police use of vascular neck restraints noted a lack of “robust evidence” on rates of death and significant injuries.

The review examined neck restraints used by three police forces, including the RCMP, and found the technique to be effective in more than 90 per cent of cases.

The report found there were no fatalities or significant injuries related to vascular neck restraints after 944 field uses. The RCMP accounted for one-third of the cases used in the study.

The force said the carotid control technique was used 25 times in 2020 and 14 times in 2021 by its members.

According to documents obtained through an access to information lastyear, the RCMP recorded six occasions when someone had to be taken to hospital following the application of a carotid hold — three in 2018, one in 2019 and two in 2020.

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