By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express
When the province announced it would be changing its street check policy for police, cops across the country wanted things in black and white. Instead, according to Chief Paul Martin, it came in various shades of gray.
“There’s still too much ambiguity,” Martin tells The Oshawa Express. “When you have ambiguity in policing, people stand back and wait to see how it plays out. That’s my concern.”
Under the new rules, set to come into effect at the beginning of 2017, people who voluntarily stop for police must be informed that they do not have to give any identifying information, and that officers cannot use the fact that a citizen refused to cooperate as a reason to get more information out of them.
The practice came under fire in recent years, with several civil liberties groups saying minorities were stopped more often than white people by police for street checks – or as it came to be known, carding.
However, with the new rules set to come into effect in a few months’ time, Martin says officers are confused as to what they can and cannot do.
“All police officers want to know is what are the rules so they can play by the rules, but if there’s ambiguity left there, they’re going to sit back and wait and go, ‘I’m not going to get myself in trouble’ or as was said by the board, here’s what you’re supposed to do but here’s the exceptions, and you don’t know exactly how it’s going to play out,” he says, adding at the latest meeting of the Durham Region Police Services board that the province has yet to announce how it will educate officers on the new policy.
Another problem that may come up is the amount of new paperwork that officers will have to do.
“The officer has to write a report, even if the guy doesn’t offer any information,” Bobbie Drew, a regional councillor from Scugog and a member of the police services board, said during the board meeting.
“When are they going to have time to fight crime with all this paperwork?”
In 2014, Durham police conducted 14,619 street checks, dropping to just under 12,000 the following year.
To date, police in the region have conducted more than 3,000 street checks.
However, according to Martin, only about 10 per cent of those are what is known as a field interview, where a person near the scene of a crime is talked to by police, whether because they match the description of a suspect or they are nearby shortly after a call and may have seen something.