How many people did cops kill last year?

There were at least 117 people who lost their lives in “police-involved deaths” in 2022.

This is according to my own tracking of police killings, drawing from police oversight agency reports, police communications, media coverage, and in some cases family reporting.

This is up from 2021, when there were at least 104 people who lost their lives.

Police-involved deaths are incidents in which police interact with someone and that person ends up dead. In some cases, police have actively killed someone, as in a shooting, beating, or vehicular homicide. It also includes in-custody deaths where police were responsible for someone’s care. And in other cases, police interactions may have impacted a person’s actions, as in a fall by someone in distress.

In 2022, in Ontario alone, there were 12 firearm deaths, meaning people shot and killed by the police; 14 deaths in police custody, including holding cells; four vehicle deaths, which may include police chases; and one death listed as “other.”

These figures were reported by Ontario’s Special Investigation Unit (SIU).

In 2021, the SIU publicly reported 11 firearms deaths in Ontario, 34 in-custody deaths, 10 vehicular deaths, and five deaths listed as “other.”

There remains no formal database or official and consistent documentation and reporting process covering all police forces across the country.

That work is left to families of victims, community advocates, and criminologists. Other attempts at documentation, such as by CTV or CBC, focus on lethal force instances, such as shootings, and so are under-counts of the number of people who are killed by police or die during interactions.

Those counts do not include deaths during pursuits, falls by people in distress when police are present, or in-custody deaths.

We also have very little information about people who die after a police encounter, following release from custody, or due to injuries from a police encounter.

Between 2000 and 2017, of the hundreds of instances where a police officer killed a civilian in Canada, less than four per cent resulted in charges. Out of the 18 charges laid, only two resulted in convictions. A 2020 report found that across Canada, charges were laid or forwarded to Crown prosecutors for consideration in only three to nine per cent of the cases undertaken by the provincial agencies.

The SIU’s latest annual report notes that 2021-2022 was the busiest in the history of the agency, with investigation files opened in 430 cases, a 10 per cent increase from 2019. Criminal charges were laid by the SIU Director in 14 cases, against a total of 14 officers. These are not yet convictions.

There is no effective police oversight in Canada as far as affected families and communities envision it. Police officers, as well as their forces and associations, often obstruct and refuse to cooperate with investigations.

Many investigators within these civilian organizations are former police officers. Of the 167 members involved in investigative units across Canada, 111 were former police officers, according to the Canadian Press.

Police, through their own communications as well as major media, have put a focus on recent killings of officers to call for tougher laws and more restrictive bail conditions.

In 2022 there were six on-duty police deaths. Four of those were in Ontario. In 2021 there were two (one in Ontario). In 2020 there were three (one in Ontario). These numbers are fairly representative of typical years.

There were almost as many police-involved deaths last year alone as the 133 police officers killed in the line of duty between 1961 and 2009.

This article appeared in the 2023 Feb/Mar issue.