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Hamilton Police do 10 to 15 'street checks' a day

Hamilton Police conducted 3,000 to 5,500 "street checks" yearly between 2010 and 2013. And so new provincial standards for street checks coming in the wake of the 'carding' controversy in Toronto would dramatically impact the day-to-day operations of Hamilton police officers.

Province to standardize 'street check' practice in wake of 'carding' controversy in Toronto

Min. Yasir Naqvi pledged a review and new standards to come for the province's police force street check practices. (CBC)

Hamilton Police conducted between 3,000 and 5,500 "street checks" yearly between 2010 and 2013 — between 10 and 15 per day.

The number of street checks conducted rivals the number of tickets the ACTION team writes. While Hamilton police have not said exactly what a street check is, a Toronto Police report says that is the name other Ontario forces use for their version of its controversial carding practice. 

Hamilton Police Service ACTION Street Checks
2010 (May-Dec) 2011 total 2012 total 2013 total TOTAL (2010-Mar. 2014)
4,241 5,423 4,803 3,684 18,569 

And so it appears new provincial standards for street checks will dramatically impact the day-to-day operations of Hamilton police officers.

Last week, provincial Community Safety and Correctional Services Min. Yasir Naqvi promised to look into the proactive policing practice and standardize rules for police forces across Ontario. Stories told by young black men, especially, about being stopped by police in Toronto without being under investigation have added to criticism of the practice, suggesting it is a racially biased practice. 

"The status quo in these cases is not acceptable and cannot continue," said Naqvi. He added that the Ontario government has "zero tolerance when it comes to any racial profiling and discrimination."

In Hamilton, Coun. Matthew Green has called for a "broad, open, honest" conversation about the role of policing in creating safer communities, and the effect certain policies can have on people. 

Unlike some other chiefs and services around the region, Hamilton Police Service Chief Glenn de Caire has not commented publicly on the "carding" debate in Toronto, nor on the province's involvement. 

Hamilton Police published the annual number of street checks its ACTION team completed in years 2010 through 2013 in its 2013 year-end report to the service's oversight board.

The service did not publish the year-end "street check" number for 2014 in its most recent year-end report.

The service did not provide an answer for why the statistic was excluded this year.

'The appropriate balance between public safety and personal rights'

Hamilton Police Chief Glenn De Caire has yet to speak publicly about the service's street checks. (Adam Carter/CBC)
Ontario police chiefs issued a statement welcoming the province's exploration of street checks. They suggested the new rules may include standards on "training, supervision, oversight, and retention policies" across the province.

"Police leaders in Ontario recognize that we can only meet the public's expectations for fair and bias-neutral policing when we have the public's confidence," the statement reads. "The [Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police] will work with the Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services to strike the appropriate balance between public safety and personal rights when it comes to street checks."

A speaker at the Hamilton Police's Board meeting this Thursday plans to ask about efforts to combat racial bias in policing and to push for more public education campaigns around individuals' interaction with the police. Black, Brown, Red Lives Matter, a local anti-racism group has asked for definitions of policing terms and practices. 

The service has said it plans to consider distributing receipts when people are stopped and are not under investigation, and also to keep racial statistics to get a sense of whether the street stops here have a disproportionate impact on visible minorities.

Those discussions have not been slated for review at the Hamilton Police Services Board, though community relations coordinator Sandra Wilson said the receipts would be an issue considered sometime within 2015.

De Caire came to Hamilton from Toronto in 2009 after serving as a staff superintendent and a commander for the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy unit, implemented as an answer to gun and gang activity. Carding has been a frequently used tool in the TAVIS arsenal for gathering intelligence.

In Hamilton, De Caire used Provincial Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy, or PAVIS, funding to form Hamilton's ACTION teams to focus on high-crime neighbourhoods. 

It's been a busy, high-profile few weeks for the ACTION team as several members have been suspended and charged on allegations they wrote false tickets.

'Written information officers may record'

Dec. 1 march co-organizer Kayonne Christy called on the Hamilton Police Service to end the practice of carding and destroy its records collected from people who were not under investigation. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)
It remains unclear what goes into a "street check" in Hamilton, what information is recorded about the person being questioned, and for how long that information is retained.

Hamilton Police have previously defined a differently worded "street safety check" as: "Written information officers may record in an interaction with community members on the street." 

They have not said whether a "street safety check" and a "street check" are the same thing. Nor have Hamilton Police drawn any comparison or contrast between its proactive street checks and the controversial "carding" practice under fire in Toronto.

But a 2012 Toronto report drew a direct link between "street check" practices in other Ontario police departments and "carding" in Toronto.

Hamilton Police have not commented on that report.

Hamilton Police spokeswoman Catherine Martin told CBC News in December that "building rapport" through "communicating" is essential for police. Police in Hamilton do sometimes stop people who are not under investigation. 

"An Officer may ask for a person's name, address, what they are doing, or where they are going. In some cases the Officer may ask to see identification," Martin said.

After pressure from activists who conducted a Dec. 1 march called "Black, Brown, Red Lives Matter," the police service added language to a brochure and an iPhone app earlier this year to emphasize that citizens have the right to walk away from a police officer when they're not under investigation or a witness to a crime.  

kelly.bennett@cbc.ca | @kellyrbennett

With files from CBC Toronto

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