Police don't normally get physical with the public - unless they feel they have no other choice.
City police used force in only 0.2 per cent of their call-outs last year. Of a total of 31,048 calls to police in 2012, officers responded with force in 65 cases, according to a Lethbridge regional police report presented to the police commission Wednesday.
That number is up slightly since 2011, when police used force while responding to 0.15 per cent of the calls for help they took that year.
Any time officers use force, whether they got a citizen under control using their hands, pepper spray, a baton, a police dog, a Taser or by drawing or firing their service weapon, they must submit a report.
Last year, the police service collected 84 reports - 19 of them involved animals, such as injured deer on roads, that officers shot.
Of the remaining 65 cases involving people, most weren't seriously hurt: 44 people had no injuries; 18 people had minor injuries; and 20 people needed medical treatment for injuries including fat lips and abrasions - 10 of them police dog bites.
Around 200 police officers were involved in those 65 cases using force, but only six of them were hurt during the altercations.
One person, 26-year-old Deu Raj Puri, died at the hands of police in July 2012 after two officers responded to a weapons complaint at his westside home. That case is still under investigation by the Alberta Serious Incident Response Team to determine if the officers were justified in shooting the Bhutanese refugee. The night of Puri's death was the only time Lethbridge police fired shots at people last year.
In many cases, though, they had to point their guns to subdue people - police drew their guns 49 times, according to the report.
Sgt. George Carscadden, who is in charge of training, said officers are taught to always verbally reason with people and to use force as a last resort. But sometimes, especially in cases when the person they're dealing with pulls out a weapon, police have to have their guns ready. And with multiple officers responding to one case, those use of force reports can add up. But Carscadden said he's satisfied that police rarely have to use physical force.
"It's consistent with what we have seen over the last number of years," he said. "We're obviously always trying to strive to make things better and ultimately, if someone is totally co-operative with us at the time that we engage them, we would never have to use any amount of force, ever."
A new, computerized training simulator is helping Lethbridge police recruits learn when it is and isn't appropriate to use force.
The police service got the high-tech device, which also sends feedback to instructors, last year and is now putting it to use, Carscadden said.
"The simulator is a very important device for us in regards to training, because it helps the officers understand the reaction from the subjects and it helps us train them for the proper responses that we want them to understand when they're (dealing with) those situations," he said. "It's very accurate, very realistic. It's involving all spectrums of use of force, from verbal compliance right through all the different options of force if the officer has to use that."
Apart from police officers' own reports of their use of force in 2012, the police service investigated 13 public complaints and two internal complaints against its officers last year. Most of the public complaints alleged discreditable conduct - some related to situations in which officers also faced criminal charges. Five of the complaints involved excessive force allegations, compared to seven complaints of excessive force in 2011. That year, citizens lodged 14 complaints against the Lethbridge regional police.