‘De-policing’ a matter of survival: union boss
“De-policing” — when officers avoid unnecessary interactions with the public for fear of being scrutinized — is a simple survival tactic, says the president of the Ottawa Police Association.
“What you were trained to do is no longer acceptable. What is the immediate reaction? Cease any activities that would be conducive to exposing yourself,” Matt Skof said Monday. “It’s simple self-survival. You don’t expose yourself to liability, so you return to a more basic form of policing.”
Doctoral research by former Ottawa homicide detective Greg Brown, reported in the Citizen on Monday, showed that 70 per cent of the nearly 3,700 officers interviewed reported “limited to moderate to intensive de-policing.”
The officers limited their contact with the public because they feared it could lead to disciplinary action, either from their own department or provincial oversight agencies, or to public shaming since so many interactions are caught on video and posted online.
Brown talked to officers from across Canada, including 382 front-line officers in Ottawa, including Skof, and in five New York state departments.
“The results that (Brown) is experiencing throughout the entire country is what we’ve experienced here in Ottawa,” Skof said.
Oversight agencies such as the
Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Independent Police Review Director, and the Ontario Special Investigations Unit were being unfairly politicized, Skof said.
“The dialogue starts to have a racial component to it,” he said. “It impacts the officers when they see agencies taking political positions against police officers that compounds the jeopardy a police officer already faces when they’re dealing with the public. The officers feel very second-guessed.”
Among emergency first responders, neither paramedics nor firefighters are expected to have the same proactive role that police officers do, he said.
But there can be other factors keeping officers from policing proactively. Skof said staffing levels have been reduced, leaving officers with little time between calls to engage the public. At the same time, increased regulations mean officers must spend more time writing reports.
“There seems to be an expectation that a police officer is going to be driving around for 10 hours of their shift, without realizing that there’s a significant amount of paperwork involved for every call for service.”
In an emailed statement, Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, said there were other ways that officers interact with the public besides regulated interactions such as “street checks” and officerinitiated calls for service.
“I would agree that officers are likely more mindful about the implications of their interactions with the public. As the saying goes, ‘Once bitten twice shy,’ ” ElChantiry wrote. “However, I don’t think this is creating a culture of police that are neglecting their fundamental duties of protecting the safety and security of the community. It has added another level to their decision making process, an increased awareness.”
Police Chief Charles Bordeleau was not available for an interview Monday.