What are citizens’ rights and obligations when they are stopped by the police? What are the parameters police operate within when they engage with the public? What can citizens do when they think their rights have been violated during an interaction with police?
These are some of the questions answered in OJEN’s project, Checks and Balances: Informed Engagement, Effective Feedback. The project concentrated in Toronto’s Neighbourhood Improvement Areas. Over the past year, the program reached 360 youth and frontline youth workers before wrapping up in April 2019.
Checks and Balances was funded by the City of Toronto’ Projects and Events Fund and the Law Foundation of Ontario. It was designed to increase understanding of new provincial regulations that clarify police procedures when asking civilians to identify themselves. It addressed some of the misconceptions youth have about policing while providing practical strategies for improving interactions with police. While the topic of policing can often be contentious, OJEN’s non-adversarial approach allowed participants and police officers to find common ground for relationship-building.
Differentiating police-citizen interactions
Citizens may interact with police for a variety of reason, including vehicle searches, police investigations and street checks, etc. People often incorrectly refer to any of these interactions as “carding”, an arbitrary and illegal police contact. Program participants learned to re-define their interactions with police by using the correct terminology to describe them. Understanding the procedures police use in different situations, gave participants more clarity about what was required of them.
Developing communications strategies to use when interacting with police
Through scenario-based, experiential learning activities, participants had the opportunity to explore effective communications strategies for interacting with police officers. Knowing their rights and understanding the parameters in which police work, was important in allowing youth to feel more confident about engaging with police.
Knowing where to go for help
Many youth and youth workers reported that they did not know about the mechanisms to deal with civilian police complaints. Learning about the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD), gave participants assurance that they had recourse, should their rights be violated during police interactions.
Checks and Balances increases youths’ legal capability by providing the knowledge and tools to achieve more positive interaction with police. In its focus on humanizing the role of the police officer, the program helps to foster greater trust between youth and police. Shifting from an adversarial to a collaborative relationship between police and youth is a first step toward safer communities.