Chief wary officers may reduce contact with public
The chief of the Saskatoon Police Service says he doesn’t want to see a pullback in social interaction between officers and the public after the Saskatoon Police Commission introduced a formal provincewide policy on contact interviews.
Thursday ’s Board of Police Commissioners meeting was the first since the Saskatchewan Police Commission introduced the policy on contact interviews, which happen when a police officer engages with a member of the public to gather information and it’s not related to a specific incident or offence. Cooper acknowledged after the meeting that in other parts of the country, policies surrounding the interviews have led to some officers engaging less with the public.
“We’ve seen in Ontario, where there’s some scrutiny over officer behaviour, and so it’s natural to pull back from something maybe some of those, what we would consider to be, traditional police duties. So we’re hoping that through policy like this, we’re protecting our own staff from feeling like they ’re being over scrutinized,” Cooper said.
“So, the staff know what they can do, they know what the rules are around it and they know what they ’re doing currently is certainly safe and expected by the community.”
The new provincial policy states that officers are not to conduct contact interviews on a random or arbitrary basis, or based solely on the person being a member of an identifiable group, such as race.
Cooper said reported Police Act violations or misconduct through police regulations “simply aren’t there.” There are concerns in the community that police presence may have some bias, he added.
“For us, we know that our officers haven’t been accused formally of that sort of thing, and I think that’s not been a real issue ... certainly in our community. But it’s something that always takes vigilance and something that we’re interested in making sure that the public knows that they’re protected from, that sort of human rights violation,” he said.
He said the reason the Saskatchewan policy was formed was that there was concern elsewhere in the country about bias in policing.
“We wanted to have a way of making sure that when we interact with the public, that they knew that they were protected from that sort of bias in policing,” he said.
Mayor Charlie Clark, a board member, said the policy has been a “long time coming in a lot of ways.”
“I do think that there are sort of signs in here that (the commission has) heard the concerns from the community. I also think, in the need to strike a balance, I also think some of this is going to be a matter of how it’s implemented,” Clark said.
Clark said he sees this as an opportunity to educate the public about how policing works.
In a report to the board, Cooper said the Saskatoon Police Service and the Saskatchewan Police College are developing a training program that all officers will be required to take.
Cooper makes distinctions between “contact interviews,” “street checks” and “carding” and was careful not to interchange the terms. The definition is the most important new part of the contact interview policy, he said.
“We use the term street checks for a whole bunch of different things and the term carding was never actually used in Saskatchewan. So, it’s sort of open to interpretation, misinformation, misinterpretation, so having this definition is pretty critical.”