Hamilton Police: You have the right to 'walk away'

Hamilton Police have added new wording to public education materials that make citizens' rights clearer in interactions with officers when they're not under investigation.

Police add new wording to public brochure that says you can walk away from police when not under investigation

Hamilton Police Service make clear in their new brochure that you're not obligated to stop and talk to police unless you are driving, biking, under investigation for a crime or suspected of committing another offence, such as being drunk in public. (Terry Asma/CBC)

After urging from anti-racism advocates, Hamilton Police have added new wording to public education materials that make citizens' rights clearer in interactions with officers when they're not under investigation. 

Citizens have the right to choose whether or not they engage with police or make the choice to walk away void of any contact or interaction with police.- Hamilton Police Service

In a new version of a public brochure, police acknowledge that in "the interest of fostering healthy community relations, police officers may initiate contact with citizens outside the scope of a current or ongoing investigation." 

The anti-racism advocates say contact like that often resembles the "carding" practice proved controversial in Toronto. They fear it violates privacy and may disproportionately target visible minorities, which media reports and studies have shown it does in Toronto.

Hamilton Police Service defends the practice as a means of building rapport. But in situations like those — not when you're stopped and questioned as a suspect — Hamilton Police make clear in their new brochure you're not obligated to stop and talk. (You are required to if you're driving, biking, under investigation for a crime or suspected of committing another offence, such as being drunk in public.)

"Citizens have the right to choose whether or not they engage with police or make the choice to walk away void of any contact or interaction with police," the new brochure states

But even while they want more people to know their rights, anti-racism and privacy advocates caution there is a fine line between asserting your rights and being confrontational and provocative.

Anti-racism advocates met with Chief Glenn De Caire and Hamilton Police's community relations coordinator Sandra Wilson last month and asked them to stop the practice of stopping and questioning community members who are not under investigation. The service said Monday it would explore two initiatives to help measure and combat potential racial profiling in policing.

The update to the brochure, and coming similar changes to information in the service's smartphone app, add to those initiatives. 

Wilson said no additional training is needed for officers in light of the new language. 

"The choice to walk away under the specific parameters outlined has always existed and forms part of our ongoing normal business practice," Wilson said. "It is nothing new for our officers."

The brochure retains the caveat that it may "not be immediately clear" why a police officer is stopping you. 

"While you are usually not required to produce identification (unless you are operating a motor vehicle), it is advisable to be polite and answer the officer’s questions," the brochure states.

Law student and Hamilton youth worker Riaz Sayani-Mulji cautions people he knows to be respectful when stopped. He said he tells young people he knows to "be polite, don't be rude, comply with what [police are] asking." 

Clint Twolan, president of the police union, said this week the practice of establishing rapport and talking not just to people who are under investigation is an important part of policing. 

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