Street checks continue to decline in Edmonton

Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee says the service will look into whether officers are avoiding street checks out of fear of public backlash and accusations of racism. 

In the first half of 2019, Edmonton police officers randomly stopped, questioned and documented 3,972 people who were not suspected of a crime. That’s down from 6,104 street checks for the same time period last year.

Those numbers were presented at a police commission meeting Thursday.

McFee says the service will look into whether de-policing  — where officers avoid interactions with the public — is a factor. 

“I think we have to be very, very careful it’s not de-policing,” McFee said. “I don’t think we know enough to say it is at this point but it’s something that we need to keep paying attention to. As we’ve heard in the news, that’s what everybody’s pointing to in Toronto.”

Declining numbers are part of a larger trend in Edmonton where on average, police were conducting 26,000 street checks annually for several years before the practice came under increased public scrutiny in 2015.

In 2018, police performed 11,051 street checks. That’s 30 per cent fewer stops compared to 15,910 in 2017.

McFee said an audit tool that examines how street checks are conducted and reported is largely behind the downtrend.

“As I’ve said all along street checks are an essential part of police work,” McFee said. “How we do them and how we report them is exactly what we’ve been focused on.”

According to the report released to the commission Thursday, EPS has implemented all of the recommendations that came out of an internal review in 2016 as well as doing “considerable work” to address recommendations from a 2018 review launched by the commission. 

Changes introduced include providing extensive training to recruits and beat officers and putting more emphasis on increasing diversity in recruiting practices, the report says. 

In 2017, a CBC Edmonton investigation revealed Indigenous and black people were much more likely to be stopped by Edmonton police, prompting calls for a provincial ban.

The former NDP government consulted with law enforcement agencies and community groups across Alberta but never formulated a provincial guideline for street checks. The UCP government has not said if it plans to address street checks.

Last month, Halifax banned the practice and the police chief said his force will formally apologize for random street checks that targeted black people at a rate six times higher than white people.

In Montreal, Irwin Cotler, a former federal justice minister, endorsed a motion to be tabled at city council, calling for a moratorium on street checks until legislation is drafted to ensure they are conducted fairly.

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