Mistrust in Ottawa police revealed in internal report

Ottawa police have released an internal report detailing the depth of mistrust some people feel about the force.

Temporary outreach team details community concerns nearly 3 years after Abdirahman Abdi's death

Ottawa police connected with more than 1,000 people about their feelings toward the force. (CBC)

Ottawa police have released an internal report detailing the depth of mistrust some people feel about the force.

The report was done by the Ottawa police outreach liaison team, a temporary unit led by Insp. Isobel Granger that was formed after the fatal arrest of Abdirahman Abdi in July 2016.

The team's mandate was to repair the fractured relationship between police and the city's black and other ethnic communities. The report was completed in May 2017 and a two-page summary was presented at an Ottawa Police Services Board meeting that month.

The temporary unit connected with more than 1,000 people about their feelings, and in an interview with CBC News, Granger said it was one of the most comprehensive surveys of race relations ever done by the force.

"We had received the message from the community loud and clear that we really needed to listen to what they were saying," she said.

Farhia Ahmed, a member of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, called the report's findings "an honest portrayal of what the community is feeling."

Fear and mistrust

The 142-page report says it contains "two overarching and recurring themes" — a fear and mistrust of police, and concerns about leadership, accountability and transparency.

"Some immigrants see the police as a force associated with physical threats, lootings and killings," the report states, adding that the level of mistrust is elevated among marginalized youths, especially in Somali, black, Indigenous and Arab communities.

Their parents are also "greatly concerned for the safety of their youth and any interaction with police," the report says.

Insp. Isobel Granger led the outreach liaison team report, and says that while more needs to be done to improve relations with the community, they're working on it.

And mistrust in policing is spreading to other communities.

There is "shock and disappointment [about] police behaviour from middle-class communities who traditionally had no issues with policing," the report states.

Granger doesn't characterize the report as critical of police, instead arguing it's more a reflection of community pain following Abdi's death and other incidents of police violence across North America.

"There was a lot of emotion," Granger said. "During tumultuous times, or when there's a critical incident, a lot of times it will be heightened."

'ZERO confidence with Ottawa police'

The consultations also revealed a lack of confidence in police, to the point that "some black communities don't 'tell' or 'snitch' on others," the report says.

"Many from the Muslim community are not reporting hate crimes because they are afraid of bringing attention to themselves," it adds.

Some people reported feeling that frontline police officers "are doing bad" because "they don't have a strong chain of command that holds them responsible for their actions in the community."

The report also found that the Ottawa police anti-gang unit, known as DART, is perceived by many in black, Somali and Arab communities as the "racial profiling unit."

"Somali youth have claimed beatings and confiscation of property illegally at the hands of DART members," the report reads.

One comment states simply: "ZERO confidence with Ottawa police."

"There are a lot of people who expressed their perception and in my view their perception has to be reality because that's their experience," Granger said.

183 recommendations

The report includes a long list of recommendations, some of which have been tossed around in various Ottawa police reports, reviews and consultations since the mid-1990s. The recommendations include:

  • Adding to the force's values that Ottawa police are committed to a diverse and non-discriminatory police service.
  • An acknowledgment from the chief that systemic barriers, discrimination, biases and racism exist in the force.
  • Identify and implement a way to measure and track accountability.
  • Prevent officers implicated in an incident from interacting with the community until they are cleared.
  • Review the mandate of the guns and gangs unit.

Chief Charles Bordeleau wrote in an email that some of the recommendations have resulted in change, and pointed to the creation of the community equity council, a new hiring effort focused on visible minorities, and the launch of the internal diversity audit.

Granger said her team's recommendations now form the foundation of the force's multi-year bias-neutral policing strategy, and that compiling the feedback has helped build relationships.

"I know about change. It doesn't happen overnight," Granger said. "We have a lot of work to do, but work is being done."

Dahabo Ahmed Omer, another member of the Justice for Abdirahman Coalition, said the "answers are right in this report, they're right in all the other reports. All [police] have to do is implement it."