London police mishandled their response to a call from an LCBO loss prevention officer who detained a combative shoplifting suspect for seven hours before finally being told officers weren’t coming, according to an internal police review.
An LCBO investigator filed a complaint about the June 9 incident to the Office of the Independent Review Director, the agency that handles complaints of police conduct in Ontario, three week later.
The provincial agency forwarded the complaint to London police to investigate. The service’s professional standards branch reviewed the complaint and created a report that will be presented to the city’s police services board Thursday.
“A service review of the complaint identified issues with respect to the handling of the call for service and corrective action was taken to address them,” says the report deputy Chief Paul Bastien will present to the civilian oversight body.
Police were called around 4 p.m. after loss prevention officers at an LCBO outlet arrested a shoplifting suspect, who resisted arrest. The male suspect tried to escape and assaulted staff, prompting another six calls to police during the next several hours, the three-page report says.
A police patrol supervisor called the loss prevention officer at 11 p.m. to say no officers were available and directed them to release the suspect, the report said.
During the seven-hour window, the police communications centre had 50 other higher priority calls that were classified as urgent or emergency, the report says.
London police classify calls in three categories: emergency calls involving life-threatening situations, crimes or urgent issues not currently in progress and issues that don’t pose an immediate threat to public safety.
Police statistics show the average response time for the calls related to issues that don’t pose an immediate threat to public safety, known as Code 3 calls, jumped to nearly 110 hours last year, up from just less than eight hours in 2018. Response times for crimes or urgent issues not currently in progress, known as Code 2 calls, increased to more than seven hours, up from 90 minutes four years earlier.
The internal probe determined the LCBO call wasn’t escalated after information about the suspect’s violent behaviour and escape attempts was received and no follow-up investigations were conducted, the report says.
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As a result on the internal review, communications centre staff and patrol officers were given directives regarding calls involving non-officer arrests. The directives included the appropriate escalation for calls based on the circumstances, the prompt referral of decisions regarding the arrest or release to the patrol supervisor and the need for initial communication between a front-line officer and the individual holding the suspect.
A procedure pertaining to the release of individuals arrested by someone other than a peace officer is being developed, the report said.
Canadian law allows members of the public to arrest suspects who have committed a crime and deliver them to police custody.
The LCBO’s theft policies are based on federal and provincial laws, a spokesperson said.
“Once arrested, security is required by law to turn the suspect over to a police officer. In this case, London police was unable to arrive promptly and, as the report suggests, they are taking corrective action to ensure it doesn’t happen again,” the spokesperson wrote in an emailed statement.
Last month, police Chief Thai Truong outlined his plan for cutting down police response times as a centerpiece of his proposed four-year budget, touting the $475-million spending request as a path to modernizing the force and changing the way service is delivered to the community.
The police board approved the proposed budget, but it still needs to get the green light from city council.