'Devil's chair' included in Belleville police budget

·3 min read

A policing expert and a local advocacy group are raising questions after the Belleville, Ont., council approved funds for the city's police budget, which includes the purchase of a prisoner restraint chair.

The Belleville Peaceful Streets Network (BPSN) were hoping councillors would reject the 2021 police budget until an item was removed, referring to it as the "devil's chair."

"Imagine being in police custody, being overwhelmed by anxiety or depression and then being strapped into a chair and losing any and all agency of your body," said Britney Hope, a spokesperson for the group.

"Nobody deserves that. But more importantly, experts believe it doesn't help – it actually hurts more."

While city council couldn't vote on specific items on the budget on Tuesday — which was approved by the city's police services board in October — it approved the total amount of funds asked for by police.

The chairs, which tie down a person's arms and legs, are meant to be used on individuals who become a danger to themselves or others.

According to the 2021 capital budget, the Belleville Police Service have to deal with "30-40 prisoners a year attempting to kill themselves or cause themselves serious bodily harm by physically acting out of control."

"Currently, there is no way officers can completely secure an out-of-control prisoner and we have had some serious injuries and prisoners needing to be transported to the hospital," the budget reads, citing the price of the chair at under $2,800.

Dozens of prisoners try to harm themselves: police

Both Belleville Mayor Mitch Panciuk, and the chair of the police services board Jack Miller, declined to comment and referred CBC News to the Belleville Police Service.

No one from the service responded to CBC's multiple requests for an interview.

Screenshot of Youtube livestream
Screenshot of Youtube livestream

BPSN points to a 2015 study funded by the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services in Ontario, which reviewed 614 legal motions and cases — the vast majority of which were in the United States – that involved the chair.

While the study approved the use of the chair, it found many issues stemmed from "inappropriate use."

Robert Gordon, a former police officer and Simon Fraser University criminology professor, says he was surprised to hear the police force was looking to buy the item, which he says is primarily for transporting a person.

He said the chairs are more commonly used in health-care and correctional facilities. In those settings, the chairs are seen as a "necessary evil," he said.

According to Gordon, the standard is set by the Correctional Service of Canada, which uses the chair minimally.

"These chairs should never be used as a form of punishment or as a threat of punishment."

Proper training key

Gordon said the key is to properly train officers to ensure the equipment isn't misused or abused.

Gordon said he's not certain why the police service would need a restraint chair when officers can use handcuffs, another piece of equipment he thinks is often misused.

BPSN's Hope said people should be concerned councillors at Tuesday's meeting didn't question why a restraint chair is a proper response to 30 to 40 people trying to harm themselves.