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Street checks: Saskatoon police say some officers confused about the rules

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Saskatoon police use of street checks has fallen sharply since the adoption of a 2019 policy restricting the practice, according to a new board of police commissioners report.

Contact Interviews, also known as street checks, involve a police officer stopping a civilian for questioning unrelated to an investigation. Critics say the practice discriminates against the homeless and racialized communities.

The Saskatchewan Police Commission issued a provincial policy on contact interviews in 2018, with the Saskatoon police adopting the rules in March 2019.

The number of reported street checks has fallen steadily each year since.

Officers conducted just 16 contact interviews in 2022, down from 189 in 2021, according to the report from the city’s patrol division.

Saskatoon police are only allowed to conduct contact interviews under three conditions — there’s a lack of any apparent reason for the person to be in a particular area, the person’s actions or demeanor raise a concern regarding their purpose or safety, or the person appears lost, confused, frightened or in need of assistance.

Police aren’t allowed to question someone randomly, just for their presence in a high-crime neighbourhood, or because of their age, disability, socio-economic status, gender, religion or ethnicity.

This policy does not apply to interactions in the course of active investigations or in situations like a traffic stop, where officers have legal authority to question drivers.

Report author Tyson Lavallee, acting patrol inspector, says there still appears to be some confusion among officers about what constitutes a contact interview.

“Through the review process we continue to find inconsistency relating to officers submitting contact interviews when they have statutory authority, or are involved in an active investigation,” he writes.

A total of 59 reports were submitted as contact interviews by patrol officers in 2022, but the majority of contacts were made in the regular course of enforcing the traffic safety act, bylaws or the criminal code.

“This inconsistency can be attributed to the complexity of the policy [and] will be addressed in 2023 through an education component.”

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