Hamilton

Are Hamilton streets more dangerous without carding?

Hamilton police’s use of the controversial carding or street checks tool dwindled to nearly nothing in 2016 – down to six recorded street checks last year, compared to more than 4,800 in 2012.

Do 'the bad guys feel safer walking around with guns now'? asks Coun. Lloyd Ferguson

Hamilton anti-racism activist Kayonne Christy read a list of demands of the Hamilton Police Service, including to end the practice of carding, in December 2014. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Hamilton police's use of the controversial carding or street checks tool dwindled to nearly nothing in 2016 – down to six recorded street checks last year, compared to more than 4,800 in 2012.

That's according to a year-end report presented to Hamilton's police oversight board on Friday about the work of Hamilton police's ACTION team, largely focused on downtown.

Throughout 2016, carding and street checks were a hot topic in Hamilton and around the province, as anti-racism advocates pushed for fairer rules on when an officer can log someone's ID and whereabouts in a database.

New regulations that came into effect in January 2017 banned police from collecting identifying information on someone who is not under investigation, on someone "arbitrarily," or on someone based on race or presence in a high crime neighbourhood — all concerns that had eroded trust of many communities with police.

The carding practice was criticized for its disproportionate impacts on visible minorities and was called an infringement on Charter rights to privacy.

A copy of the Hamilton Police form formerly used to compile and record personal information in "street checks," obtained by CBC Hamilton under a Freedom of Information request. (Hamilton Police Service)

'Are our streets less safe now?'

Before the regulation passed, former Chief Glenn De Caire argued that limiting street checks would make the city less safe.

He forecasted "unintended consequences," and he laid out a dire eventuality: "The result of reduced officer-community engagement can lead to increased crime, violence, injury and death."

So, faced with that plunge in street checks in the new report to the board, Coun. Lloyd Ferguson expressed concerns.

"Are our streets less safe now as a result of that legislation?" he asked.

"No," said Insp. Greg Huss.

Ferguson asked whether "the bad guys feel safer walking around with guns now than when we were doing 4,000 street checks versus 6?"

But Huss said officers are still talking with people, still "engaging" with a visible presence.

"To say that it's more dangerous now with the legislation, I can't say that," Huss said.

Ferguson said he'd be watching the trends so the board can report to the province about the possible impact of the regulation on the safety of the streets.

'We are not prohibited from stopping and talking to people'

Chief Eric Girt said the police service will be providing feedback to Justice Michael Tulloch, who is reviewing the impact of the provincial law.

But he said he can't draw a conclusion that it has been "positive or negative."

Hamilton Police named Eric Girt the service's new chief in May 2016. He said it's too early to tell conclusively what the impact of the new provincial law on carding/street checks will be. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

"We are not prohibited from stopping and talking to people," Girt said. "We can still do that. We have pivoted from asking their name, unless it's under certain circumstances that are provided in that legislation. That has been the change. We can still talk to people."

Meanwhile, another measure of ACTION's work rose dramatically. Proactive or reactive "premises" sweeps rose from 260 in 2012 to 9,170 in 2016.

Such stops could include sweeps for drugs or weapons, or responding to a call from a building owner or passerby about people "loitering" in a stairwell, said Hamilton police Const. Stephen Welton.

The shift in numbers has come in part because the senior command at the service has decided to deploy the ACTION team in more areas and projects than when it was first launched, Girt said.

"If we're not deploying our resources (only downtown), what's the more proactive stuff that we can do, what are the other areas we can expand to?" Girt said.

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca

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