Police officers choosing to neglect proactive policing, researcher finds

A Carleton University doctoral researcher, and former Ottawa Police homicide and drug investigator, has found that police officers in Ottawa and across Canada are increasingly choosing to “de-police.”

As researcher Greg Brown defines it, “de-policing” is the act of officers choosing to scale back or refrain from proactive or discretionary duties and choosing only to interact with the public when called for service.

In other words, they’re choosing not to pull someone over, if they see a driver breaking the rules of the road, or they’re choosing not to investigate if they see a suspicious person. Officers will still respond to 911 and dispatch calls, but will wait for those to come in.

The primary concern officers have is the fear of public scrutiny if their actions are misinterpreted or misrepresented.

Brown tells Newstalk 580 CFRA’s News and Views with Rob Snow more police officers are subscribing to a so-called ‘F.I.D.O.’  mentality, which stands for “F--- it, drive on.”

“There’s a lot of anecdotal discussion over the past several years,” Brown says. “I experienced it my patrol career as well, where this F.I.D.O. notion is brought up so I decided to measure this empirically.”

Brown says 3,660 front line officers from 23 cities participated in his survey. 382 were from Ottawa. He also obtained data through Freedom of Information requests.

“What I found is essentially there’s a continuum of de-policing ranging from, in rough numbers, 30 per cent of officers who say, ‘I don’t care about public video, I don’t care about public video … I’m just going to do my job the way I’ve always done it.’ The 30 per cent on the other end are essentially doing nothing but responding to dispatch calls. In the middle, you have 20 per cent each in the other two categories: limited de-policing and moderate de-policing.”

Brown says officers are weighing out the pros and cons, and believe there are far more cons than pros.

“The amount of street checks an officer does are not to be considered for performance assessments or promotions, so there’s very little upside, other than if you’re committed to service and you believe in proactive policing, whereas officers are telling me there is a substantial downside,” Brown says. “Things like allegations of excessive force, racial profiling, targeting certain areas or certain types of individuals. There’s disciplinary panels, human rights tribunals, the court of public opinion, media attention, public scrutiny, the way people would interpret YouTube videos of certain police events. There’s a lot of downsides for police officers doing proactive policing.”

Brown calls de-policing a “universal phenomenon,” one that is happening in police forces across Canada, and one that cannot easily be policed itself.

“A supervisor is monitoring 15 officers. You can’t get into officers’ heads and see what they’ve seen or haven’t seen, or order them to do some kind of discretionary police activity. You just can’t do that,” Brown tells CFRA's Ottawa Now with Evan Solomon.

Brown hopes to defend his thesis in August.