While patrolling a high crime neighbourhood I heard a report of an armed robbery at an all night gas bar. Several cars responded and called out a description of a suspect. He had jumped over the counter swinging a large knife at the horrified clerk, who dashed away as the bandit helped himself to the contents of the register and cut the phone line.
We all felt the suspect would have long disappered since the call took some time to come in but I saw a man a few kilomteres away in a bus shelter who, with a lot of imagination, matched the sketchy description – a 20-year old male in blue jeans wearing a dark coat. Given the hour and neighbourhood and a flimsy description, I decided to take a chance and at least ask his name.
I noticed he became rather furtive as I approached and kept looking around. He didn't run or try to leave the shelter, as I was standing at the only exit. I told him there would be no bus at this hour and asked his name. He gruffly advised that he would tell me nothing and enthusiastically advised me to perform an anatomical impossibility.
I again asked for his name. He refused so I told him he's being arrested under the Public Works Protection Act for failure to identify himself. He became much more aggressive and I quickly tussled him to the ground. Finding a good sized knife in his pocket and a bundle of cash meant I had hit the jackpot.
Back at the station, the sergeant in charge asked about the charge for my original arrest. I told him. Looking both puzzled and concerned, he sent me to the detective office and began looking for an Alkaseltzer and some provincial statutes. That night I was lucky on several counts and grateful for remembering the violation.
My bandit would likely have had nothing to fear if Ontario's proposed street check legislation had been in effect. The behemoth legislation will govern whom police may speak with, how they are to be spoken to and the way the interaction is reported.
Speaking to the public, or even attempting to do so, will generally be a no-no unless an officer is in the process of making an arrest or investigating a specific offence. Otherwise there's an extensive set of procedures.
Furthermore, each Ontario police chief will have to engage a team of "thought" investigators to determine if an officer spoke to a person because of their race or the type of neighbourhood they were found in. Both are prohibited acts. Of particular note high crime neighbourhoods are specifically mentioned as police-free zones.
Each chief must submit an annual report outlining how many times a person was stopped or officers "attempted" to speak to a member of the public "illegally." Attempted?
No one is thinking of cause and effect here, especially if this insanity spreads across the country. These proposed procedures are so onerous they essentially tell the officer to collect their pay every two weeks and move along. Crime prevention is sacrificed for apprehensions alone. Officers will now be relegated to "respond when called" status. Otherwise go for a coffee – and whatever you do, don't question the cashier.
The politicians who thought up this procedure have forgotten why police are out there in the first place and the many levels of testing and background checks each officer goes through to ensure only the right people wear that uniform. They have forgotten the multitude of complaint processes available to every citizen - and the multi-levels of in-house supervision.
The final chilling effect will be that officers will not contact or talk to anyone on the street unless they are in trouble or the officer can think of something creative for which to investigate them. For citizens, the message will be that they are in a lot of trouble if an officer wants to talk with them. What a chilling effect on community based policing.
This new "don't do anything" law is a ready made disaster in the making. I predict it will not be long before Toronto crime rates in particular reflect this. I understand crime has already begun climbing after former Toronto police chief Bill Blair placed a moratorium on street checks. Look for a dramatic increase in shooting victims from predictable neighbourhoods.
Politicians and special interest groups will now micro manage day to day police work. Criminals, who also follow the news, have heard about all this and will be emboldened by the new emasculated police service.
My only advice is for officers to hit the books, study up on little known laws and keep a keen eye out for violators or... do nothing. Both are apparently acceptable.