If po­lice aren’t polic­ing, that’s a prob­lem

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE -

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.


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