It is a contentious issue that has garnered a lot of media attention in the past. What are an individual's rights when approached by a member of law enforcement? Estevan's Police Chief, Paul Ladouceur, was in Regina yesterday outlining that very subject.
"The purpose of the meeting yesterday," explained Estevan's Police Chief, Paul Ladouceur, "was the Saskatchewan Police Commision was looking to do a public release on the new contact interview policy that has been drafted. They wanted to let the public know that this policy is in place."
"The purpose of the policy, quite frankly, is somewhat forward thinking. The Commision and the Chiefs of Police in this province were concerned because of what we have been witnessing across the country, a lot of dialogue and a lot of concerns what's commonly referred to as street checks and has been referred to in the past as carding."
"The idea of this was to put a policy in place that ensures that when the police engage with the public, that they have a formalized approach in how they're going out doing that to ensure that there's that balance between protecting people's rights and freedoms and allowing the police to do the important work that they have to do in their communities across the province."
So what does this mean for you?
"If an officer is walking down the street and approaches you. There are generally three types of contacts primarily that the police will have with the community. One of those contacts would simply be good community policing. Where a police officer is driving down the street and happens to see a child and stops to say hi and talks about the weather and it's just general conversation. Generally, people don't mind engaging in that, they're not asking them for information or anything like that."
"The other one that is very clear is where a police officer has reasonable cause to detain somebody or reasonable grounds to arrest somebody in which case the member of the public is required to identify to the officer upon arrest."
This would also fall under the example of when an officer pulls over a car for a speeding or other type of traffic offence and asks your name. In this situation, you are required to prove your name to that officer.
He added that while those two situations are fairly cut and dried, there's another type of contact that is a little less black and white.
"Where it becomes a little more complex is those ones in between where if a police officer is driving through an industrial area at two in the morning, none of the businesses are open at that time and they observe some people walking down the street or between the buildings in the middle of the night where reasonably you wouldn't expect somebody to be. Is it reasonable, would the public support the police wanting to talk to those people?"
"Those people may just be walking through and taking a shortcut to get home but they may be looking to do a break and enter."
"What we're saying in those situations is, those checks are voluntary. If an officer asks, "can I get your name?" And the person says,"I don't want to give you my name." That's the individual's right. They don't have to do that. Generally, people do comply. If a person chooses to walk away, they have the right to do so."
He used another example of a person standing on a bridge.
"Is it a case where they're just taking in the view or is that person contemplating self-harm? Would it be prudent for the police officer to stop and have a conversation with that individual."
"It's one of those cases where the lightbulb goes off and they say something's not right here. But it doesn't equate to the fact that there is reasonable ground to arrest an individual. It's one of those things where the officer's senses are telling him something doesn't seem right with this situation. And in those cases, what are the rights of the individual and what are the rights of the police officer. Now, having something formalized that hold some level of accountability on how we'll proceed in those situations and educates the public."
"The goal is both for the police officers that are on the streets and the general public to be well informed of what the rights and the rules are."
"I think the majority of the public would expect the police officer to stop, engage, and have these conversations where something is telling the officer that something doesn't seem right."
Much has been made that these so-called street checks are racially motivated. Ladouceur acknowledges that officers are human too with biases just like the regular public.
"We read the odd time about an officer who messes up or does something wrong. I think Chiefs hold their members to a high degree of accountability. There is discipline that can be issued through the Police Act for officers who don't comply with the policy."
"Years ago in policing, were there police officers who would stop and ask people for their name and their address and what they were up to for no reason at all? Sure there was. Policing changes and it evolves over the years and I think we have to look at what are we doing better than we did years ago. We can't change the past, we can only change how we proceed in the future."
"Obviously police shouldn't be going out and arbitrarily stopping people, especially based on race or gender or anything like that. Certainly, as a Chief of Police, I would never tolerate that from our members."
The new policy was drafted by the commision in consultation with the Saskatchewan Federation of Police Officers as well as the Saskatchewan Association of Chiefs of Police and various stakeholders.
A full copy of the policy can be found here.