Chief wary of­fi­cers may re­duce con­tact with pub­lic

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - NEWS - THIA JAMES

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.”

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