By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
In a few short months, new rules will be in place to govern the way police officers interact with people on the street. However, for Durham police, it is only a slight change of pace from the way officers have been conducting themselves for decades.
The new street check regulations put forward by the province under the Ontario Police Services Act come into effect the first day of the new year, and not only lay out the specific reasons why officers are allowed to stop citizens on the street, but also lay out what they must do during those stops.
“It doesn’t really change dramatically the way we do our job, it just really prescribes what you need to do when you are collecting information from an individual,” says Sgt. Paul Hallett, who works as an academic sergeant in the Police Education and Innovation Centre (PEIC) at Durham College.
The changes to street checking, or carding as it is colloquially known, stem from concerns raised that racial minorities were being unfairly targeted and arbitrarily stopped in high-crime areas.
And while Hallett says that stops on the street should never be arbitrary or based on race, sex, or religion, these caveats are now officially listed in the legislation.
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 Officer 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.
“I think the concept there is to make sure people know what their rights are and that it doesn’t turn the relationship between police and citizens into a no-fly zone,” says Dave Selby, a spokesperson for Durham police.
“Police officers can’t do their jobs unless they talk to people. That’s in the job definition.”
Due to the changes, all officers who would be in a situation to carry out a street check will be required to undergo the training prior to the start of 2017. In total, 550 officers will need to undergo the six hours of in-class training, as well as two hours of online training.
In early September, Sgt. Hallett travelled to the Ontario Police College in Aylmer to receive the two-day master training course in order to pass on the information to the other training officers.
It will be no easy task though – Police Chief Paul Martin is on record noting that completing the training for all officers before the end of the year will be a “monumental task” for the police force.
“It’s a very aggressive timeline, there’s no doubt about it,” Hallett says.
Despite that, Hallett says they will do their best to have all officers trained in the current timeline, a process that is already underway.
The training will be made easier by the fact that many of the officers will be well aware of the information already, Hallett says, noting that earlier in 2016, officers underwent a Fair and Impartial Policing course.
“It’s nothing new, this training that we’re doing. A lot of it is really a review of the things that we’ve been doing for a very long time,” he says.
Going back further, DRPS officers have been training in sensitivity and multiculturalism since the 1980s, Selby says, but it’s never a bad idea to refresh.
“We’re not perfect. Officers do make mistakes out there and it’s never a bad idea to reintroduce it,” he says.
And while the regulations may look strict, the protections they provide to citizens are balanced with the ability for police to still do their jobs affectively, Hallett says.
“I think that there might be a misconception in the general public that this is preventing police from now speaking to people and that’s really not the intent of it at all,” he says.
“It’s a little bit more stringent than how we’ve had to do in the past, but it’s not a bad thing. It’s just to make sure that everyone’s aware of their rights.”