Saskatoon

What Sask. civilians should know about new police street check rules

The new 'contact interviews' policy, which will govern 13 municipal police forces in Saskatchewan, is meant only for situations where an officer is worried about public safety or the welfare of the person approached.

Policy is meant for situations where officer is worried about public safety or welfare of person approached

The provincial police commission says officers should not target visible minorities for street checks. (CBC)

Visible minorities should not be targeted when police attempt street checks with members of the public, the Saskatchewan Police Commission says.

That's one of the major components of a new "contact interviews" policy the commission unveiled on Wednesday.

The policy, while narrow in scope, will affect how police officers in 13 Saskatchewan municipalities and First Nations conduct street checks, sometimes called "carding." 

  • Read the full policy here

"The contact interview is where there may be a concern for public safety or for the welfare of the person but there's not at that point a concern for an offence," said Neil Robertson, the commission's chairperson.

He then went on to give a Saskatoon-specific example. 

"If a police officer is driving along and they see someone on the University Bridge looking out, they're probably just enjoying the view," he said. "But there might be a concern, 'Is that person considering self-harm?'

"What the commission would like, and what we think is good policing, is for the police to stop, talk to the person just determine, just ask how they're doing."

No obligation to speak to police

The interviews should be voluntary, meaning people will not be required to answer questions or speak to police.  

Nor should the street checks be done on a random or arbitrary basis, the commission added.

The updated policy says officers can't initiate a contact interview based on a person's "location in an area known to experience high levels of criminal activity or victimization" or perceived race or ethnicity, age, gender, colour, religion, mental disorder, socio-economic circumstances or other personal characteristics. 

The commission sought feedback from police agencies, First Nations and other groups over two and a half years. 

The new policy was unveiled at a press conference in Regina Wednesday morning.

Practice can be useful: police chief 

"A lot of criminal activity has been solved by police engagement and interaction with the public," said Paul Ladouceur, the chief of police in Estevan, Sask., speaking on behalf of the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police.

Paul Ladouceur, the chief of police in Estevan, says contact interviews can be a helpful means of solving crimes for police officers. (CBC)

"I think to remove that ability of the police to engage with the community and the public is dangerous," Ladouceur added.

Ladouer said the term "carding" came from officers originally using cards to record information.

"To still use that term today, it's an archaic term that really doesn't have a lot of merit," he said. 

Saskatoon chief responds

Troy Cooper, Saskatoon's chief of police, said in a release that street checks are an important part of policing but that "there must be a balance in utilizing policing techniques and maintaining public confidence."

Saskatoon Police Chief Troy Cooper said he understands street checks are a "contentious issue" across Canada. (Bridget Yard/CBC)

"I understand that contact interviews, or 'street checks,' is a contentious issue across Canada and one that many groups have strong feelings about," he said.

He said that after reviewing the commission's policy, the Saskatoon Police Service will develop an "approach that will best meet the needs of our citizens."

Read the full policy below.

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About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter at CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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