New street check rules contributing to violent crime, police union says

The Ottawa police union is drawing a connection between a decline in interactions between officers and the public and the recent increase in violent crime in the city.

Ontario's new rules for police interactions came into effect in 2017

Matt Skof, president of the Ottawa Police Association, says there is a link between new street check regulations and the rise in violent crime. (CBC)

The Ottawa police union is drawing a connection between a decline in interactions between officers and the public and the recent increase in violent crime in the city.

A report to the Ottawa Police Services Board on regulated police interactions — where an officers asks someone for their name, identification or date of birth — showed a dramatic decrease from thousands of checks in recent years to just seven in 2017.

That year new rules banned these interactions, which are also known as street checks or carding, in specific situations as a way to increase the public's confidence in police.

Matt Skof, president of the Ottawa Police Association, said the drop-off is an expected result of the new rules.

"The legislation is crippling," Skof said.

"You are seeing a correlation between our lack of interacting with the public and an increase — a sharp, dramatic increase — in the number of shootings."

Skof said the rules are premised under a false assumption that every police interaction turns into a street check and that critics have misinterpreted why some communities may be over-represented in the data.

In the same year that street check rules came into effect, there were a record 74 shootings in Ottawa.

However, there were 68 shootings the year before the rules came into effect.

Skof said the understaffing of the police force to meet budget restrictions has been going on for years.

'We hear that anecdotally'

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau said other cities in Ontario have seen a similar decline in street checks since the new rules came into effect.

"The pendulum has swung," he said, but added the police can still have other interactions with the public that aren't counted under the province's new rules.

Ottawa Police Chief Charles Bordeleau says there are a variety of factors that have contributed to violent crime. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

"Some would draw a conclusion or a parallel with a low number of interactions with a potentially increase in street violence," he said.

"We haven't seen the evidence of that, but certainly we hear that anecdotally from our officers."

Deputy Chief Steve Bell said some police are wary in interactions with the public and that may be affecting the recording of data and the number of interactions. 

Board chair wants more information

Coun. Eli El-Chantiry, chair of the Ottawa Police Services Board, compared the implementation of the new regulations to the adjustments that were needed in the 1980s after the introduction of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Justice Michael Tulloch is currently reviewing the rules and El-Chantiry said if it's unworkable, the city will have to speak up.

"But I think it's premature to say that today, at least before we have a full view of what's happening there," he said.

The police service, union and board have made submissions to Tulloch's review and the justice will be visiting the city again before writing his report.