ICYMI – Chris Selley: Police carding ought to be an anathema in a free society. How is it still up for debate?

Good commentary:

In the debate over if, when and how police should be able to stop, question and compel identification from citizens, and then store the information they receive in databases, those arguing to allow officers maximum discretion tend to defer to public safety. The more info police have, the more crime and violence and misery they can avert. Conveniently for that view, in the two years since more restrictive rules took effect in Ontario, Toronto has experienced a significant spike in homicides.

Coincidence? Justice Michael Tulloch thinks so. In his 300-page report on the Independent Street Checks Review he oversaw, officially released Friday, Tulloch does a pretty good job busting causation down to correlation.

In 2013, he observes, Toronto police agreed to ramp down “street checks” (an interaction producing “identifying information … concerning an individual … that is not part of an investigation”) and “carding” (when “a police officer randomly asks an individual to provide identifying information when there is no objectively suspicious activity,” and the individual isn’t suspected of or to have knowledge of any offence, and the information winds up stored in a database).

Despite that, the city’s homicide count held steady at 57-59 per annum until 2016, when it spiked to 75. In 2017, the year the rules came fully into effect, the number dropped to 65, before soaring to 96 in 2018 — the highest in a decade.

The number of shooting incidents, meanwhile, has hardly budged since the new rules came into force: There were 406 in 2016, 390 in 2017 and 424 in 2018. Furthermore, some areas of the city where carding was most prevalent — Jane and Finch, Rexdale, Lawrence Heights — saw dramatic decreases in shooting incidents. Whereas getting guns off the street is a common justification for intrusive police tactics, such as New York City’s stop-question-and-frisk, firearm seizures in Toronto skyrocketed after the new regulations came into place. And other Ontario municipalities reported no similar surges in crime. Overall, homicides in Ontario dropped from 2016 to 2017.

In short, it’s far easier to make a case that carding has no effect at all on serious crime than that it has a huge one. But even if previous carding practice had “worked,” even if the new regulation had stopped it from working, it barely even amounts to a defence. As Tulloch notes, “the regulation simply gives effect to the existing law that people do not have to provide their identification when there are no reasonable grounds to believe the person has committed an offence.”

If carding “worked,” in other words, it relied on citizens not knowing or caring about their already-existing right to be left alone whilst minding their own business, or being too intimidated to exercise that right — as well they might be. Politely refusing an armed man or woman’s request to identify yourself is no small thing, all the more so if you have “nothing to hide.”

The problems inherent in such a situation are myriad. There are quantifiable harms: People were denied jobs and security clearances, and in at least one case menaced by child services, thanks to information stored in police databases that implicated them in nothing other than being included in a police database. And there are more existential harms. Imagine growing up with a squeaky-clean nose yet constantly feeling like a person of police interest. It’s profoundly alienating, especially when targets quite logically conclude, based on well-documented statistics if not their own intuition, that they’re being harassed because of their race, skin colour or some other innate characteristic. It’s no less insidious if the bias is unconscious; it might even be more so.

Nothing good can come from it, and plenty bad. It hinders police in solving crimes, for one thing: “When a segment of society believes that it has been unfairly targeted by the police,” Tulloch writes, “it will delegitimize the police in their eyes.” All those desperate calls for witnesses to come forward will be met more skeptically. Tulloch cites research showing “inappropriate interaction with police” can even “desensitize young people from guilt regarding potential acts of crime.”

Tulloch has scores of recommendations, including clarifying what he argues are overly complex rules for officers; requiring officers to tell people when a conversation is voluntary; including written reasons for the existence of any database record; and destroying those records automatically after five years.

As he says, the police have lots of powers at their disposal — including the power to stop and question people if officers have a legitimate, articulable “reason to believe the identifying information would be valuable police intelligence.” That still goes too far for some civil libertarians. But it’s maddening there are still people who object to the very idea of eliminating truly random stop-and-question policies; people who can’t grasp just how anathema that idea ought to be in a free society, how profoundly it undermines the social contract that underpins modern Western policing; people who could actually take issue with Tulloch’s most fundamental recommendation: “No police service should randomly stop people in order to collect and record identifying information and create a database for general intelligence purposes.”

Well, obviously.

Source: Chris Selley: Police carding ought to be an anathema in a free society. How is it still up for debate?

Little to no proof police carding has effect on crime or arrests: Ontario report

Significant study:

Police street checks widely known as carding have little to no value as a law enforcement tool and should be significantly limited across Ontario, a judge tasked with reviewing the practice said Monday.

The report from Justice Michael Tulloch outlines certain circumstances in which police may have legitimate grounds to conduct street checks, or stop people at random and request identifying information.

But Tulloch, who was hired by Ontario’s previous Liberal government to assess the effectiveness of new regulations meant to limit the impact of street checks on racialized groups, said those circumstances are very specific and the practice as a whole should be sharply curtailed.

“There is little to no evidence that a random, unfocused collection of identifying information has benefits that outweigh the social cost of the practice,” Tulloch wrote in his 310-page report.

“Given the social cost involved with a practice that has not definitively been shown to widely reduce or solve crime, it is recommended that the practice of randomly stopping individuals to gather their identifying information for the creation of a database for intelligence purposes be discontinued.”

Tulloch, who previously led a review into Ontario’s complex police oversight system, was asked to turn his attention to carding months after the previous government made moves to eliminate what it described as systemic racism in law enforcement.

Police oversight

Street checks started coming under intense scrutiny several years ago amid data showing officers were disproportionately stopping black and other racialized people.

In 2016, Ontario introduced rules dictating that police must inform people that they don’t have to provide identifying information during street checks, and that refusing to co-operate or walking away cannot then be used as reasons to compel information.

The aim was to end arbitrary stops, especially those based on race, though anti-carding advocates have called for the practice to be abolished entirely.

Race is prohibited as forming any part of a police officer’s reason for attempting to collect someone’s identifying information.

Police had long argued that street checks have value as an investigative tool, a notion Tulloch challenged in his report.

“A widespread program of random street checks involves considerable time and effort for a police service, with little to no verifiable results on the level of crime or even arrests,” he wrote. “Some police services reported that there are other ways to gather data or use data that they already have more effectively.”

Tulloch’s report also debunked the notion that carding had played a role in solving the high-profile killing of Cecilia Zhang, a nine-year-old girl who was abducted from her Toronto home in the middle of the night in 2003.

Tulloch said many of the more than 2,000 people consulted for the report cited the arrest of Min Chen, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in Zhang’s death, as an example of a carding success story. Tulloch said, however, that Chen’s name first came to be in police files as a result of a non-random stop that did not fit the definition of carding.

Chen was stopped in response to a complaint of illegal fishing filed weeks before the girl was killed, Tulloch said, adding the information gathered during that interaction later gained relevance when Chen’s name surfaced in the Zhang investigation.

“The Cecilia Zhang case does not support the proposition that the police should be authorized to randomly request and record identifying information,” Tulloch wrote. “It simply reinforces that when identifying information is properly obtained during a police investigation, as it was in that case, that information might be useful to help solve a crime.”

Additional recommendations

Tulloch said street checks have value in cases where there are clear suspicious circumstances, or when police need to identify the identity of a missing person or crime victim. Among his many recommendations to the new Progressive Conservative government were some stating the 2016 rules should not apply in such cases.

But other recommendations advise the government to take a harder line on street checks, tightening definitions of terms such as “identifying information” and “suspicious circumstances” and broadening protections during vehicle stops.

Tulloch also recommended an overhaul of the training that was put in place when the new rules took effect. He said it lacked the critical component of explaining why the changes were being made, which left some officers hesitant to get on board.

“Implementing new rules for police officers to follow has little value — and will not achieve the intended goal — if officers are not effectively and adequately trained on the reasons why the changes were necessary,” Tulloch wrote.

He also recommended officers at all levels “should learn how the widespread use of carding by some services and some officers has been abused in the past.”

Correctional Services Minister Sylvia Jones said the government is taking time to go through Tulloch’s findings, but said his work would “inform” efforts to reform police legislation in the province.

“We are committed to developing legislation that works for our police and for the people of Ontario,” Jones said in a statement. “Our new police legislation will reflect a simple principle: racism and discrimination have no place in policing.”

Source: Little to no proof police carding has effect on crime or arrests: Ontario report