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Understanding Street Checks

On Thursday, June 29, 2017, the Edmonton Journal published an Opinion article written by Chief Rod Knecht on street checks: 

Some citizens have been very critical of the Edmonton Police Service’s practice of conducting “street checks”. We appreciate and respect the voices of groups such as Black Lives Matter - Edmonton, the Institute for the Advancement of Aboriginal Women and others whose ‘challenge role’ helps us to be a better police service. We welcome dialogue and input on all policing issues; however, we believe that their stated concerns are misplaced on this issue.

Discriminatory or racist policing deserves to grab headlines and foster public outrage. Often this is the first step to holding organizations to account, and rightfully so. However, a sensational but unfounded allegation of racism, while also grabbing headlines, serves only to unfairly undermine public trust and confidence in the police.

In Edmonton, street checks are, in essence, conversations between a member of the public and a police officer. They are most often initiated by an officer in response to either a call for service, crime trends or public safety concerns. For example, a person peering into backyards at 3:00 a.m. or checking locks on vehicles in a parking lot will be the subject of a street check. This information would be recorded by EPS and entered into our records management system. If a series of break-ins or other crimes such as robberies or sexual assaults are reported in the same area as the street check, your police have a starting point to solve the crime. That street check could provide a critical witness, evidence, or a suspect. These street checks are spontaneously initiated based on circumstance, not race.

Racial information is not automatically collected as part of the report. Police are only interested in what a person is doing in an area prone to crime and victimization, not their race. However, if a police report exists which includes the race of the individual, it will be linked electronically to the street check report, well after the interaction has concluded. The majority of people checked (77%) have had previous interactions with police. This is not surprising, as most checks focus on public safety in areas of increased crime and victimization. 

Geography plays a dominant role in who is street checked. Based on emerging crime in neighbourhoods, we increase patrols focusing on locations where individuals or groups have been victimized and conduct checks where warranted. Residents want and rightfully expect police to check these people.

Many communities are frequented by vulnerable populations, the homeless, the mentally ill, and the addicted. Adding to the complexity, the racial demographics of this population are not representative of our larger community. That speaks to larger issues requiring a broader societal response, which the EPS has been advocating for with the Wellness Centre concept to address root causes. Aggressive public interactions, medical episodes and susceptibility to victimization lead to police interaction in the form of street checks or otherwise.

Street checks are essential in preventing and solving crimes and reducing victimization.  Recently, a street check was instrumental in solving a homicide and another concluded an arson spree. In the latter case, the individual in the vicinity of the arson was street checked in an alley near the location. While speaking with the individual, an odour of gasoline led to further investigation, solving the crime.

To associate street check reports to a racist agenda creates controversy and does a disservice to an otherwise legitimate debate.

Issues in the USA and central Canada in 2015 regarding random “carding” prompted us to review and update policies, practices and training, audit our reports, and ensure oversight related to fair and impartial policing. We undertook purposeful steps to ensure race plays no part in any aspect of our public safety mandate. Discriminatory behaviour by EPS members is not tolerated and could result in termination.

I have consulted with the Chief’s Advisory Council, a group of citizens that represent religious, cultural and ethnic communities of Edmonton. They have provided valuable insight to guide our street check policies and processes now and into the future.

The primary aspect of the vision of the EPS is to make Edmonton the safest major city in Canada. This requires the support, trust and permission of our citizens. Our ability to conduct street checks is essential in keeping the people, families and communities of Edmonton safe.

Rod Knecht Chief of Police