No-hit police raids increase in Hamilton and Halton, new data shows

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It is increasingly common for police in tactical gear to burst into homes unannounced in Hamilton and the Regional Municipality of Halton in Ontario, according to new data obtained by CBC News.

The data, received through Freedom of Information requests, shows how often Hamilton and Halton police used no-hit raids from 2019 to a period in 2021. It also reveals the number of people injured in these raids involving heavily armed police.

Smooth raids, also known as dynamic entries, are meant to be rare. By law, officers must generally knock on the door of a residence, identify themselves as police officers, and wait for someone to answer before executing a search warrant.

Police departments say no-hit raids are generally only used if there is a higher risk of danger or potential destruction of evidence.

In Halton Region, however, the number of no-hits from 2019 to 2020 nearly doubled. In Hamilton, there was a 25% increase. 100 during this period. Incomplete data for 2021 also indicates that such raids in both regions continue to increase.

Data that CBC News has scoured also shows that the Hamilton and Halton raids have injured two officers and six civilians since 2019.

There are no details of the single civilian and one officer injured in Halton.

In Hamilton, police say the five civilians and one officer injured in their raids were not injured enough to implicate Ontario police watchdog the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

Non-hits have come under scrutiny after reports of raids that went off the rails and some of which turned deadly, as in the case of Anthony Aust in Ottawa and Breonna Taylor in the USA

Although this request for data was limited to Hamilton and Halton, research conducted by Radio Canada The fifth state indicates that these commando-style raids occur daily in Canada.

Researchers and activists reacting to newly obtained statistics for Hamilton and Halton say they are concerned about the militarization of policing and are calling for more oversight and transparency.

But police departments say the ban on knocking makes situations safer.

Why are dynamic entries on the rise?

Halton Police said in a statement that the increase in local no-hit raids was due to more situations deemed high risk or potentially leading to the destruction of evidence.

Hamilton Police Superintendent. Marty Schulenberg told CBC Hamilton that the increase in such raids locally is due to an “alarming increase” in the number of firearms found on city streets.

“In 27 years of policing experience, when I started working as a patrolman, it was very rare to find a firearm in the city of Hamilton… [now] we actually encounter them during our traffic checks.”

He also said there had been a 15% increase in firearms seized between 2020 and 2021 and a 70% increase in shootings over the past five years. Last year, Hamilton recorded 19 homicides, an all-time high.

WATCH | Hamilton Police superintendent says there are more guns on city streets

‘Alarming rise’ in firearms found on Hamilton streets, leading to more no-hit raids: police

Hamilton Police Superintendent Marty Schulenberg said the increase in no-hit police raids is linked to more guns being found in the community. 1:13

Schulenberg said the Hamilton Police Tactical Unit executed 73 warrants in 2020, up from 36 in 2016.

“When I use numbers I in no way mean to detract from the impact it has on the community…all of these factors cumulatively increase the risk to public safety and there is also a significant risk to our members as well.”

Schulenberg pointed out that there is a tiered approval process for smooth raids, with lots of risk assessment and planning.

Halton Police said their process included extensive planning and that their officers always try to make an arrest outside the premises (and these are also included in their no-knock statistics).

Both Hamilton and Halton Police Departments said no-knock stops remain rare relative to the total number of search warrants they execute, but neither provided those numbers.

The militarization of the police “at full steam” according to an expert

Kojo Damptey, executive director of the charity Hamilton Center for Civic Inclusion, is concerned about the growing number of unopposed raids.

“When it comes to interactions with police, especially black people, racialized people, and Indigenous people, those interactions become extremely violent,” he said, speaking in general police terms.

“That’s why these smooth raids need to be systematically examined.”

Damptey is also concerned about the physical injuries caused during the raids, saying that while Hamilton police say they weren’t serious enough to implicate the SIU, that may not account for the impact that this has on the mental health of the people victimized by the raids.

Calls for more checks and balances have grown in recent years. Legal experts want judicial review and more public data, among other measures, but the Supreme Court leave it to the police.

For example, Schulenberg said, despite all the planning involved in a ban on knocking, officers have the ability to alter the plan at the time.

“There’s no check, there’s no balance on these things. They might have 120 [raids] next year they could have 220,” said Kevin Walby, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg who studies one-shot raids and related case law.

“Many judges … have suggested that often the police are too aggressive, the level of force they use is not justified.”

WATCH | Researcher Says More Checks and Balances Needed for Smooth Raids

Researcher says more checks and balances needed during no-strike raids

Kevin Walby, an associate professor of criminal justice at the University of Winnipeg, says no-knock raids are a growing concern. 2:23

Walby said tactical teams are being used more often in everyday policing and that alongside increasing incidents involving no-hit raids is leading to a “full steam” approach to the militarization of policing .

Kevin Bryan, a retired York Regional Police detective and police instructor at Seneca College in Ontario, said there is always a risk of injury when it comes to crime, and that no-hit raids are safer because they allow the police to better control the situation.

For example, trying to stop someone on the road could lead to a high-speed chase that puts innocent drivers at risk, he said.

Bryan said police departments in different cities can use the no-knock to strike at the same time for joint operations.

“We can’t just say, ‘Well, there’s a risk that somebody gets hurt, so we’re not executing the warrant’…so why are we enforcing the laws?” Brian said.

No more public police data sign in Hamilton

The effectiveness of no-hit raids is unclear.

Schulenberg said the Hamilton Police Department does not track how often no-hit raids lead to arrests, convictions or evidence seized.

Damptey said police should publicly share more details about the smooth raids, such as demographic information about those targeted.

Schulenberg said police aim to be as transparent as possible and welcome community feedback, but noted that including more data would be up to the Hamilton Police Services Board.

Board spokeswoman Kirsten Stevenson said she was “satisfied” with the way she reports on use of force statistics and will no longer make data accessible without a hit.

She said the board can request changes to the information in the reports when they receive them.

Masood Mirza said he wanted to know why Hamilton police broke into his girlfriend’s house to search for guns in late July and found none. He said he wanted the police to apologize and pay for the damage to the house. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Stevenson’s comment does not help Masood Mirza restore trust with the police.

In late July, Hamilton police broken by the front door from the home of Mirza’s girlfriend, threw a smoke grenade and pointed their guns at him. They found nothing in the house.

Mirza was not physically injured, but the situation traumatized him.

It’s been months and he’s not about to learn why the raid took place. He said he hoped for more transparency for everyone involved in the raids.

“I get it, you have to do your job, but I deserve answers.”

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