This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Controversial Street Checks

"I have a number of clients who are law-abiding, who have no criminal records, who have been stopped numerous times, many of them are from racialized backgrounds."
"The police already enjoy a very broad power to stop and detain people, short of arrest, when they suspect them of having been involved in a crime. The law even gives them search powers."
"[Street checking] relies on ignorance because members of the community do not ever have to comply with those kinds of questions or demands. And yet the vast majority of people, even those that are educated, even those of us with law degrees, feel that when we are stopped by the police that we probably should cooperate."
Leo Russomanno, defence lawyer, Ottawa

"[Informing individuals they don't have to comply] That, to me, defeats the purpose."
"[The service doesn't believe in] random street checks [responding to known people, part of ongoing criminal investigations]."
"We're preventing crime and we're assisting in solving crime."
Inspector Mark Patterson, Ottawa Police Services
The average person on the street would tend to cooperate when being questioned by police, reasoning that they have nothing to hide, since they are, after all, law-abiding citizens. Who view it as a public duty to respect the work that police do on behalf of society, ensuring that law and order prevail. It is those who know quite well that their illicit activities and anti-social behaviours are a threat to order and good citizenship who would feel it in their best interests to refuse cooperation.

The Ottawa Police Service has issued a report meant to be presented to a board meeting, the civilian board which oversees police. In the report the service announced that it conducted 4,405 street checks in 2014. Many of those checks related to more than one individual. Some 675 police officers catalogued interactions with 6,331 people resulting in 9,620 entries for the year, into the police database.

street check
A street check requires that police record information in a database. Detailing interactions with or observations of a person, a vehicle, or a specific location known or suspected with involvement in criminal activity. Information gleaned through scrutinizing the report shows the majority of those checked, some 80 percent, were male. The individual who was street-checked the most frequently -- 30 times -- is white, and 39 years of age.

The issue of street-checking concerns civil liberties advocates, along with members of marginalized communities and defence lawyers, alarmed by what they consider an over-representation of racialized young men monitored disproportionately by police. Combined statistics from 2011 through 2014 amassed by the police service show that 58 percent of people street-checked were white, while 20 percent were black, and 14 percent of Middle Eastern, Aboriginal, Asian, East Indian or Latin-American descent.

The 2011 National Household Survey released by Statistics Canada reveals that black people account for under six percent of the total city population, while those placed in the classification of being "Arab" make up less than four percent of the population of the City of Ottawa. According to lawyer Leo Russomanno, police should inform people before street-checking them, of their rights not to cooperate in the process.

"That actually affords some sort of trust-building measures with members of the community, especially those who are racialized", he contends. A perception not endorsed by the head of the service's review of street checks who counter-argues that informing people they have the right to refuse compliance invites refusals, and renders street checks useless as an intelligence-gathering tool.

Inspector Patterson pointed out that street checks are vital to police work as observations recorded of known people, part of ongoing criminal investigations. A vehicle, as an example, known to move drugs seen regularly parked at a certain location deserves to be documented. Those being stopped, say local police officers, are mostly those known to police in high-crime areas, areas which happen to be more racially diverse.

Even a casual observer who reads the daily local news is aware that there is a higher incidence of crime commission among blacks, aboriginals and young men of Middle East, African or Southeast Asian descent. That being so, the complaint by Mr. Russomanno reveals him either to be ignorant of reality, or disingenuous in an effort to boost his client-rolls.


Can police street checks be done fairly?

  • 59%
  • Yes
  • 1051 votes

  • 40%
  • No
  • 713 votes

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