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Cell detention policies under review, says Halifax police chief

Chief Dan Kinsella of the Halifax Regional Police answers questions from reporters at HRP headquarters on Gottingen Street on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019. Kinsella addressed the three recent police officer arrests.
Chief Dan Kinsella of the Halifax Regional Police answers questions from reporters at police headquarters on Gottingen Street in October. - Ryan Taplin

The Halifax Regional Police force is dealing with renewed calls for policy upgrades in the wake of two recent cell-death convictions.

“Anytime an individual is within our custody, we take and need to take every effort to make sure that their care is provided for,” Chief Dan Kinsella said after Monday’s regular police commission meeting.

Just more than a week ago, two Halifax special constables were found guilty of criminal negligence in the death of Corey Rogers, 41, who died overnight between June 15 and 16, 2016, while in custody  at the Halifax Regional Police station for public drunkenness.

Special constables Dan Fraser, 62, and Cheryl Gardner, 47, will be sentenced Feb. 14.

Rogers died from asphyxiation after choking on his own vomit while wearing a spit hood that covered his face. The two special constables were accused of failing to conduct proper safety checks on him while they were on duty.

Kinsella said Monday that he is personally reviewing every aspect of the policy that covers cell detention.

The chief said spit hoods can still be deployed but the purpose of the spit hood is very specific.

“That is to prevent individuals from spitting on officers and once there is no longer an environment where that can occur, the spit hood will be removed.”

He said the hood can be used while getting a detainee into the cell but should not be left on the person while in the cell. 

Spit-hood deployment was part of a 2017 department order.

“We are just going to make sure that the policy matches the deployment and move forward.”

Kinsella said his review will extend far beyond spit hoods.

“I am reviewing the policies related to prisoner care and anything that needs to be done as a result of that to make sure that we are providing effective and safe protection for the individuals that are in our care, we will certainly put those in place,” Kinsella said. 

“The building, the environmental design, equipment, training, there are a number of things that we have to look at and it’s a fairly comprehensive review.”

The municipality has long realized that the department should be moved out of its Gottingen Street headquarters and into a new yet-to-be budgeted and built building.

“The facility itself is part of the review,” Kinsella said. “It plays a very important role -- the environment, the setup, how we get into the custody area, how we get out of the custody area, how people are released. Officer safety is a very important aspect of this.”

Kinsella said equipment review pertaining to the lockup is not restricted to spit hoods but includes the use of leg restraints and handcuffs.

“Is the policy appropriate and in the right place?” he said. “Are members properly trained, are they well informed of the policy? All of those kinds of things are under review.”

Kinsella said his department is also grappling with several senior-level departures from the force.

Insp. Don Moser, Supt. Jim Perrin and Deputy Chief Robin McNeil have all retired recently.

“We’ve had a lot of changes with staff at the senior levels,” Kinsella said. “We thank them for their service. We have to move forward.”

To that end, Insp. Reid McCoombs has been promoted to superintendent in charge of human resources and Insp. Jim Butler has been promoted to take charge of the criminal investigation division. The department will begin the process of finding a new deputy chief in the near future.

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