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Calgary police investigations rely on street checks, says union president

Investigations could be jeopardized if efforts to outlaw ‘carding’ are successful, says the head of the city’s police union. 

While allegations of racial discrimination have prompted calls to outlaw the controversial police practice of stopping and requesting identification from people, purportedly without cause, Calgary Police Association president Les Kaminski warns an outright ban would make it impossible to conduct many police investigations. 

“It’s an essential part of police work,” he said.

“Information gathering is so integral. If carding becomes illegal across the board, and the only time you get to find out somebody’s identity is if you’re arresting them, it would really be detrimental.”

Earlier this week, two Edmonton-based community organizations demanded an end to random street checks by police in Alberta, claiming data showed an inordinate number of black and First Nations people stopped by officers, and prompting talks of a review from the province’s solicitor general.  

Speaking to media after Wednesday’s Calgary police commissioner meeting, chief Roger Chaffin said the service is open to initiatives to examine the practice, and that internal reviews are underway on how CPS maintains oversight on how and when such information is collected. 

While Kaminski admits the opportunity exists for abuse by less-than-scrupulous officers, he maintains the important role street checks play in the intelligence gathering process.

“Information gathering is essential to furthering some investigations,” he said.

“If that flow of information ends, you’ll see that investigations will also become less effective.”

A veteran of the city’s gang suppression unit, Kaminski cited several instances where information gathered through careful and deliberate street checks directly lead to arrests — especially in high-level cases like homicides. 

“I understand people’s rights need to be protected, but seldom do officers ask for that information with complete randomness,” he said, adding that in his over 30 years of policing he’s never encountered a purely random information check. 

“We certainly don’t have the time, with complete randomness, to stop people and ask for their information,” he said, explaining that facing shortages of resources and personnel available to handle ever-increasing call loads means officers are far too busy to randomly demand identification from passers-by.

“It just doesn’t happen.”

Street checks, he said, are no different than any tool available to police — their use requires proper care and discretion to ensure it retains investigational value and stays within the bounds of the law.

Police officers have always faced challenges balancing the optics of their investigative work and the needs of gathering intelligence vital in bringing criminals to justice, he said. 

“Sometimes it would appear to be a random check when there’s really no randomness behind it,” he said.

“But you can’t divulge how you’re coming to that conclusion, because that would jeopardize an investigation as well.”

bpassifiume@postmedia.com
On Twitter: @bryanpassifiume

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http://calgaryherald.com/news/crime/calgary-police-investigations-rely-on-street-checks-says-union-president