Police officers across Canada are less likely to proactively investigate suspicious behaviour or persons these days than they were 10 years ago, and it’s out of fear of increased scrutiny, according to a new report out of Ottawa’s Carleton University.
Greg Brown, a 28-year Ottawa police veteran, is now a researcher and instructor at the university. As part of his study, he surveyed about 3,660 front-line officers across 18 Canadian police forces and five in New York State.
“The results of the study suggest that de-policing is a universal phenomenon across Canada and the United States with approximately 70 per cent of officers practicing de-policing,” Brown explained.
“In other words, they’ve curtailed or cut back or are entirely refraining from performing discretionary or proactive police functions.”
Brown said officers are now more prone to wait for 911 calls to respond to — a reactive response — as opposed to doing proactive work without a “call” attached to it. He said it’s an effort to avoid “allegations of excessive force… racial profiling… being dragged in front of disciplinary panels, human rights tribunals, media stories about your alleged misconduct. So a percentage of officers are saying, ‘This isn’t worth it. Why would I bother doing this?'”
There’s an old acronym in policing known as “F.I.D.O.” It stands for “F— it, drive on.” It was meant as more of a joke at the time, but Brown said his study shows many officers are taking it seriously these days.
They feel their work is often misrepresented by viral videos that start halfway through arrests or by public perceptions that their use of force has broken the law before agencies like the Special Investigations Unit have completed their examinations.
Brown said those worries of unfair judgment are particularly apparent when an officer is responding to a call for a person of a visible minority, or someone dealing with mental-health issues.
“A lot of officers are telling me they’re essentially judged to be guilty by a certain percentage of the population before all the facts are known. A lot of officers made it clear to me that they don’t mind oversight, they don’t mind being accountable for their actions but they want to be judged by a body that understands what they’re doing and all the nuances of policing.”
With numerous videos of police, in action, going viral in recent years, Mike McCormack, president of the Toronto Police Association, said many officers worry about being painted with the same brush as officers who’ve done wrong.
After what he says is a lack of staffing and resources, McCormack tells Global News the second biggest point of stress amongst his members “is the perception of policing,” whether that’s in the media (or) social media.” Our officers are definitely having a perception of low morale right now.”
Toronto Mayor John Tory believes these issues will be fixed with the impending “modernization” of the Toronto Police Service.
“The whole idea of the modernization process is that more officers can spend more time in the community being with people and really addressing problems before they arise,” Tory said.
“And I think a lot of that is going to be training, training and more training.”
Brown suggested the disconnect between police and some members of the public requires a two-way solution; and that maybe citizens need some training too.
“Maybe it’s time to open the dialogue to ‘What should the community do to improve relations with their police?’ Should the public maybe have a little bit more understanding of police policy, police practices?
“So they can better interpret when they see these kinds of viral videos or episodes of policing that some people might on the surface suggest are misconduct but when you dig deeper beneath the issue, actually the officer has acted appropriately.”