Sault Police, along with officers from every police service across Ontario, will now have to provide a solid reason for stopping and questioning individuals while on patrol.
Under new Ontario government regulations which took effect Jan. 1, police officers will have to provide a reason to an individual as to why they were approached.
Police must now also inform individuals they have the right to walk away without identifying themselves.
In addition, police must also provide a “receipt” outlining the date, time and location of the incident, along with the officer’s contact information if an individual requires it (if the individual does not require it, police will still file a report stating such a receipt was offered).
If a person does not identify him/herself to police, officers will file a report listing the individual’s perceived age and race as well as gender.
The new province-wide rules arise from complaints of racial profiling of individuals by police in larger, southern Ontario communities.
The changes were outlined in a report given to Sault Ste. Marie Police Service board members, at their monthly meeting Wednesday, by Sault Police Service Sergeant Ben Bolduc and Acting Inspector Mike Davey.
Board member Pat Mick asked Bolduc and Davey if they felt the new regulations will tie police officers’ hands.
“It does,” Bolduc replied.
However, the regulations won’t stop police from keeping their eyes on the usual suspects in cases of break and enters, robberies and other crimes, Bolduc said.
“The goal is to make sure that we are not stopping people strictly because they are a 21-year-old male walking on Queen Street at two o’clock in the morning, that’s not good enough, he has the right to do that, what else do we have (as a reason for stopping a person and questioning him),” Davey said.
“We’ve always had those reasons in our minds and we called them our ‘intuition’ perhaps, now we’re being forced to put those to paper.”
“I think as officers do it more frequently it’ll become second nature to them and they’ll do well at it,” Davey told the board.
The rules, Davey added, will not stop police from making compassionate approaches to people who appear to be in distress.
“It’s new legislation, and like anything it’s hard to change, you have guys who’ve been on the road for 10 or 20 years and they’re used to doing one way of business. Our training went really well, at first the guys had a lot of questions…(but) the guys had a really good grip on it by the time training was over,” Bolduc told SooToday.
“We still have the ability to talk to people, to do our job, it’s more articulation to the person we’re talking to and our own note taking, going forward.”
What about those sketchy characters who refuse to interact with police and plan to go on and commit a crime?
“Hopefully the interaction with police, with a person who’s motivated to go and commit an offence, it puts them back on their heels to start with and say ‘hey, they thought to stop me and look at me and talk to me, maybe they’re hanging around the corner and still watching me,’” Davey said.
“Hopefully the stop and interaction alone is enough to make most criminals take a second thought.”
Police will keep records of all interactions with people they’ve approached, and reports will be handed over to the board and the province.
Sault Police will submit their first report to the province in the first quarter of 2018.
The province will examine reports submitted by police chiefs to check if a disproportionate number of, for example, males in a certain age group or colour were stopped and questioned.
“It’ll take a period of time to see the potential impact on our service,” said Robert Keetch, Sault Police chief, speaking to the board.
“I don’t believe it’s a huge issue, to be honest.”
Sault Police began training for the new rules in September, and wrapped up in early December.
“At this point all of our front line officers are trained,” Bolduc told the board.
Each officer did four hours of classroom training and another two hours online, and there will be a refresher for each officer every three years.