‘De-polic­ing’ a mat­ter of sur­vival: union boss

Ottawa Citizen - - FRONT PAGE - BLAIR CRAW­FORD bcraw­ford@post­media.com twit­ter.com/getBAC

“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.

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