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Clarity beginning to come for new street check regulations

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The fog was thick at first. Classifications, rules, definitions, practicalities, most of it was surrounded in shades of grey.

However, it’s now past the one-year mark of the new rules surrounding regulated police street checks, known colloquially as carding, in which police ask citizens on the street for identifying information, despite the fact they’ve committed no crime. For Durham Regional Police Chief Paul Martin, who initially stated the new rules were steeped in “ambiguity”, while noting it’s been a challenge for his police force, things are starting to get ironed out.

With that said, there are still some questions remaining.

In 2017, the DRPS conducted a total of 12 street checks, stopping 14 people in the process, all of them male.

The number is in startling contrast to previous years. In 2014, the police force conducted 14,619 street checks, in 2015, that number dropped to just under 12,000.

Martin says the large shift in the numbers relates to better classification within the police records as there is now a clearer definition of what technically classifies as a street check, whereas previously, the street check category was used to classify a wide variety of police interactions with the public in Durham.

“The street check utility within our records management system was kind of a catch-all type of category,” Chief Martin says. “It was kind of a big melting pot that caught a whole bunch of different categories.”

Previously, checking up on a person who is on interim release from jail, or checking up on someone to ensure they are following their probation were classified as street checks.

It’s something Martin realizes now wasn’t helpful to the police force.

“(We) didn’t do ourselves any favours,” he says.

The former practice also makes it difficult for the DRPS to study the data to look for trends on the types of stops that are being made, or the types of people who are encountered during those stops. Martin says they currently have someone looking into the numbers from 2005 to 2017, but the process is being made difficult.

That change of practice was not the only hiccup over the last year, but also rushing officers through the training process to ensure they understand the new legislation.

The new rules were put forward by the province under the Ontario Police Services Act and came into effect at the start of 2017. The changes to street checking stemmed from concerns raised that racial minorities were being unfairly targeted and arbitrarily stopped in high-crime areas.

The new rules also stipulate that officers must inform a person of their right not to provide identifying information, provide the person with the reason they are being stopped, and officers must also provide citizens, if requested, with their name, badge number and a contact number for the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), an independent regulator that investigates cases of police misconduct.

Officers will also be providing a receipt of the interaction if the person requests it and forces will be reporting annually on street check statistics.

“We spent a fair amount of money because we had to push people through very quickly to make sure that they were trained to the level and understood the legislation,” Martin says.

According to a report delivered to the Police Services Board, $264,400 has been spent on the training so far.

With that said, the new rules also rarely come into play, as Martin says very few police interactions actually fall into the regulated definition of a street check.

Martin provides this example as to what a real street check would entail:

“Somebody may be walking along the street at late hours and carrying a backpack and perhaps the area had a lot of break and enters, that type of thing. So, you’re stopping to talk to somebody, you may not have a specific authority at that point in time, but you’re doing a proactive investigation,” he says.  “If there’s no other authority there to stop somebody and just have a conversation with them and try to collect their identifying information, then it falls under the category of a regulated street check.”

However, because of the rarity, it raises further issues with continued training to ensure the skill and the procedure isn’t forgotten.

“That’s probably one of our biggest learning pieces over the last year is that the supervisors, they got their training, but they may see one or two of these interactions, if any, throughout the year, so if you don’t use it, you lose it and that’s the problem when it comes to training,” Martin says.

Despite that, with the troubles aside, Martin notes the new rules help to improve the relationship with police and the public, adding another level of trust.

“When you can demonstrate that, first of all, you’re abiding by the regulations, you’re abiding by the rules as they’ve been set out by the province, then it’s easier for you to show your community, we are following the rules,” he says. “That creates the transparency for the community and I think it helps with our legitimacy in the community to say we’re doing things the way we’re supposed to be doing it.”