If police aren’t policing, that’s a problem
If Ottawa police officers are avoiding certain types of police work because they believe taking action could land them in hot water, we have a problem. Chief Charles Bordeleau and the police services board must find out if it’s true and if so, why.
In brief, research from Greg Brown, a Carleton doctoral researcher and former police officer, finds officers are fearful of being watched, judged and condemned for their actions in dicey situations, so they opt to practise “F.I.D.O. — f--- it, drive on” instead of interacting with the public when not instructed to do so.
Police are worried, for instance, about accusations of racial profiling; or viral YouTube videos that could lead to disciplinary hearings. They believe, as the Citizen’s Shaamini Yogaretnam reported Monday, that being proactive could ruin careers and lives.
Policing is hard work, and it’s worrisome — especially in the context of recent increase in gunplay — if officers fear the results of being proactive. He is not yet releasing his data, but Brown said nearly 400 Ottawa police officers participated in his research, suggesting the fear isn’t isolated. Our officers need to be supported — by their union, their chief and the public.
So far, Brown says, his research shows the core functions of a police officer are being carried out: A 911 call isn’t ignored, for example. But the extras aren’t always done: approaching a suspicious person or pulling over a driver for breaking the rules of the road.
Worse, Brown finds officers didn’t rush to what he terms “doomsday scenario calls,” such as a mental health crisis where the officer fears he or she may have to use force and could be recorded on video.
Brown’s research was conducted in 2016, before Ontario’s new regulations on street checks came into effect; these regulate when and how an officer may approach a citizen and ask for personal information. Both Bordeleau and Ottawa Police Association president Matt Skof have publicly blamed these rules for an uptick in gun violence on Ottawa streets.
The province has assigned Justice Michael Tulloch to study its street-check regulations.
There’s an element of personal responsibility here, too, however. Policing is one of the most important professions in Canada; like doctors and teachers, officers are there for a higher purpose — not simply to earn a paycheque. Police who are sitting having coffee, waiting to be dispatched to calls, should do some soul searching: Is this why they became public protectors?
While Bordeleau is getting to the bottom of what Brown’s work seems to indicate about current police culture, individual officers need to confront their responsibilities too. Even when the job is tough, the public expects them to do it.