Kelly Egan and anonymous police officer wrote a hot mess of an OpEd

February 18, 2018

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On Friday, Ottawa Citizen columnist Kelly Egan decided to weigh in on some very important local policing issues: a one-month increase in shootings, the Ottawa Police’s fishy carding numbers, and a new study that suggests some  police officers would prefer not do their job.

In his column, Racial bias in street checks was an issue never fixed — and now we have new problems, Egan fully embraces all of the usual lazy logic in his analysis of policing and the justice system. And what we get is a hot mess.

So let’s do this thing the lazy blogger way – a call-and-anwser style paragraph-by-paragraph look at what Egan wrote:

Deep breath. Begin.

“In 2017, police forces across Ontario began using new rules for street checks — the practice of stopping, identifying and keeping records on individuals engaged in suspicious activity.Solid evidence emerged that the old system was racially-biased and feeding secret caches of information about me, you, the dog and Uncle Mo.So the Ministry of Community Safety, supported by human rights rulings, brought down the hammer.”

So far so good – almost. 

Yes, carding is racist. Between 2011 and 2014, the Ottawa police stopped and questioned 45,802 people who were not committing any crimes. The police call these interactions “street checks,” but they are also known as “carding.”  Those words conjure up notions of a totalitarian police state — and that’s not far from the truth.    

Carding occurs when police randomly stop and question someone — for no real reason. The police officer collects information about the individual’s age, sex, address, names of their friends and details about where they are going and what they are doing. That information is then fed into a police database. This random questioning is not connected to any specific crime and the encounters are not really random at all – a disproportionate number people who are carded are visible minorities. 

The fact that visible minorities were the targets of police carding operations should not come as a surprise. It has long been known that police disproportionally target visible minorities for drug offences. And, a 2016 report, which was spurred by a human rights complainant alleging racial profiling, reviewed two years of traffic stops in Ottawa and found that visible minorities were pulled over more often by police despite the fact they were not committing more traffic offences.

But let’s be clear – when Egan says police fed information about “me, you, the dog and Uncle Mo” into the data base he is wrong. Police never have carded any dogs – lets not trivialize this issue. And the police typically would not have carded a man like Egan – he’s an old middle-aged white dude. I doubt Egan can comprehend what it is like to be stopped by the police dozens of times for doing nothing wrong. But let’s give Egan a break and chalk this one up to editorial flare.

“Outside of traffic stops or investigating a specific crime, officers are now required to offer a written receipt if they stop and ask for identifying information while: looking into suspicious activity, gathering intelligence, or checking “possible” criminal activity.The effect? Dramatic. In Ottawa in 2015 — a year with more than 40 shootings — there were 7,000 street checks, in 2016 there were 4,000 and in 2017 there were exactly four “regulated interactions.”The police brass will say this is a growing pain in the new system and the number four doesn’t reflect the number of useful interactions with citizens where identity is not requested.”

Yes, the Ottawa police do claim there has only been four “regulated interactions” with the public over the last year. But there are good reasons to question the accuracy of this information. The Ottawa police have not released how many times they have used the carding exceptions. Without that information any meaningful analysis is frustrated. As the police and Egan say – the number four does not accurately reflect the number of interactions they have had with citizens.

But here we really start to get into some problems. Egan’s ultimate thesis – to the extent he has one – is that carding regulations have contributed to a recent one-month increase in shootings. But as Egan himself pointed out, the Ottawa police were carding like crazy during 2011-2015 – a time period where shootings actually increased – a fact that Egan seems content to ignore.

Egan goes on….

“Really? Isn’t it more likely Ontario’s new rules have swung the balance too far the other way? In the interest of attacking racial bias, have we severely handicapped basic investigative work?”

At this point I am still a bit confused about what Egan is actually saying. Is it his position that police randomly stopping and collecting personal information from young black men would result in fewer shootings? I assume thats not his position – because that is insane.

And then Egan introduces us to his muse.

“Here’s an honest opinion from a cop on the inside about today’s street-check policies:“Try to imagine why police are not doing these checks and you will see why,” he writes in an email. (Identifying him would put his job at risk.)“Before we can even decide to have an interaction, we must have a specific reason, and we must tell them why, and that they can walk away no problem, at any time, during the interaction and don’t have to speak to us. After the interaction, we must provide a receipt to them indicating who we are and how to complain about us if they were not happy with the interaction. Further, even if they didn’t say anything, we have to submit a regulated interaction written report indicating how we interacted according to the legislation. All this while speaking to a potential criminal type or gang member who is throwing verbal abuse at us while filming with their video cameras and then calling to complain the next day.””

So, here we get to hear from the only person quoted in Egan’s piece – an anonymous police officer. It would have been good to get other perspectives – but I guess we have to take what we are given.

Yes, anonymous police officer, you should have a reason to stop and question a member of the public; yes, people should be able to walk away from you if they are not under arrest; yes, people should not be compelled to speak with you; yes, you should have to report and make notes of what you do; and yes, members of the public should be able to complain about police conduct.

But, it seems Egan’s anonymous “honest cop” is not really into civil liberties and police accountability. Oh – he also seems to assume that this hypothetical person he wants to card – who I can only assume is a visible minority – is a gang member. 

Neither Egan nor the honest cop offers any explanation on how stopping people for no reason would assist in solving crimes.

Egan also gives no consideration to the harm that this arbitrary and invasive police action can do to individuals and communities – and their relationship with the police.

So far Egan has offered no analysis or critique of the quoted police officer – except to say he is honest. Which actually seems to be accurate – after all, the cop is wearing his biases proudly.

But we are not done yet….

“Remember, too, this email was written within days of a new study that found up to 70 per cent of front-line officers are engaging in “de-policing,” a trend to ignore pro-active police work for fear of public scrutiny. (In other words, just answer calls for service and ignore everything else, crudely called the “F**k It, Drive On” or F.I.D.O. mentality.)“Why, on earth,” the veteran cop continued, “would an officer subject themselves to that potential for recrimination when it may well impact negatively on the individual officer if a complaint is generated?“After all, as you know, we are judged guilty by the media many times even before the two-year (Special Investigations Unit or Office of the Independent Police Review Director) complaints are returned saying all was good by police, or vice versa, and we get suspended or charged under the Police Act.””

There is no question that being a police officer is a hard job and it should be a hard job. As a society we grant the police tremendous power and we should also be entitled to expect tremendous oversight and accountability.

If this is too much for Egan’s honest cop – he should look for new employment. And any cop who would rather Fuck Off and Drive On instead of doing their job should be fired.

The Ottawa Citizen’s editorial board saw this type of attitude as a problem – but it seems to have escape Egan’s notice completely.

“He also pointed to the optics of an overwhelmingly white police force dealing with an ethnically diverse population.“The minority groups say we are lying. It doesn’t matter what we do, we are racists. There is much frustration within all our ranks. We police believe there is a guns-and-gang problem, and we police joined to fight crime wanting to help our communities.“It is true that we need help from the public but how is it helpful that our courts release these VERY dangerous gang-bangers even after we charge them, so they go back to living beside those citizens who have provided info on them, and word gets around, so the bad guys know who ratted (they aren’t dumb). I would not want my family doing this. These people are dangerous.””

No – not every police officer is a racist. No one is saying that. There are racist police officers but that is not even the biggest problem. The larger issue is that institutions like the Ottawa police are unable to acknowledge that systemic racism could even be a problem – pro tip: it is.

Egan then goes on to regurgitate more of the honest cop’s email which moves on to the bail system – no analysis, no critique, no contrary opinion. But I guess it is an easy way to hit the word count requierment.

And we are almost done.

“What he didn’t mention is the bureaucratic burden the new system imposes on police work, already a profession with a frightening amount of oversight.According to a report to the Ottawa Police Services Board in January, an eight-hour training program on “regulated interactions” was given to 1,000 Ottawa police officers. With add-ons, the cost was $546,000.There is now to be an annual report on “regulated interactions” and the force has a “regulated interactions co-ordinator” who reviewed every encounter in 2017. The reports also keep track of the racial makeup of even attempted collection of information. Last year, there were seven: Asian (one), Black (one), Middle Eastern (two), Caucasian (three).The unintended effect of all this?We now have virtually no official data on street checks, which makes it look like the racial problem has disappeared. Are we fixing the problem, or just exchanging it for a new one?A public meeting on this issue is scheduled for April 16. The bullets, in any case, keep flying.”

Yes – the new carding regulations do require training. That is a good thing since the Ottawa police have historically been opposed to continuing formal civil rights training. We train our officers how to kill but we are not in favour of teaching them how to respect civil rights?

In the end Egan cribs half of his piece from one anonymous police officer’s email. There is no critical analysis. There is no depth. There is little substance. 

To equate the carding regulations to a one month increase in shootings is ridiculous.

Is it Egan’s position that we can reduce gun violence by devoting thousands of hours of police resources to randomly asking young racialized men who are not suspected of committing any criminal offences for their papers? It is an absurd position, which is not supported by even the most basic principles of logic.

Egan seems to ignores what he himself pointed out at the beginning of his piece – that between 2011 and 2016 — when there were no carding rules and the Ottawa police carded tens-of-thousands of people — shooting incidents actually increased. 

Egan ignores that driving wedges between the police and racialized communities may actually harm investigations and disincentivize community co-operation.

But maybe this should not come as a surprise – I mean Egan did write a piece on race and policing with out actually talking to the communities most impacted by over-policing and carding.

If Egan thinks that the maybe-illusory increase in violence is somehow linked to the new carding regulations he should work a bit harder to make the case (and have the balls to make that case himself instead of using a police surrogate) 

Maybe there is a good argument that we should give up civil liberties (there really isn’t)- but neither Egan nor his anonymous police co-writter came close to making that case.

Egan is playing a dangerous game that risks undermining confidence in the justice system at the expense of civil rights – after reading his piece I don’t know if he fully understands that.

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