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Study paints grim picture of marginalized people’s encounters with police

Only 5.8% of participants said they felt safer after their interactions with the police.

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Interactions with Ottawa police are leaving some marginalized people feeling less safe, according to a new report by researchers from the University of Ottawa’s Department of Criminology.

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The report, Troubling Encounters: Ottawa Residents’ Experiences of Policing, released Tuesday, draws on the experiences of 251 people who have interacted with police.

The team behind the report, led by lead researcher David Moffette, associate professor, sought to understand how police interacted with people in Ottawa, but with a focus on marginalized groups who research shows , tend to have a more tense relationship with the authorities. .

“We keep hearing these stories of people involved on the streets, in Muslim communities, in black communities, of people telling us that they had an encounter with the police for some reason and that they are really unsatisfied. how it happened or that they felt it was disrespectful,” Moffette said in an interview.

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Between 2019 and 2021, the researchers distributed questionnaires to people who had had interactions with the police in the previous year and conducted nearly 50 interviews to follow up with some of the respondents. People they spoke to often said they felt they had been unfairly targeted or interrogated by the police; many felt racially profiled or profiled because of their social background.

People who interacted with the police also described feeling that their interactions with officers carried shades of judgment. “They were politely condescending. I felt judged, but everyone was civil,” said one attendee, a white street man in his early 50s who interacted with police while waiting for paramedics because of drug use.

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In some cases, however, participants described how police officers treated them with overt rudeness or racism. “(A policeman) actually called us ‘drunken Indians,'” an Inuk man who was ticketed for drinking beer in a park told researchers. “When I told him we weren’t ‘Indians’ but (Inuits), he thought I was a ‘clever guy’ and said he was going to arrest me.”

The researchers called these interactions “disturbing” and noted that explicitly degrading and dehumanizing comments appeared more often in the accounts of participants involved in the streets and addicted to drugs, although a subtle patronizing dynamic was a frequent backdrop. in many reported interactions.

“What we consider to be the most disturbing consequence of this is that the vast majority of our participants, 49.2% of these 251 accounts, told us that following their encounter with the police, that whether or not they approached the police or were approached by the police, they actually felt less safe,” Moffette said.

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Only 5.8% of participants said they felt safer after their interactions with the police.

“It’s very important to us,” Moffette said. “This means that people have told us they try to avoid the police at all costs. People who may use substances have told us that they are hiding from the police, which could have implications in the event of a overdose or medical emergency.

The researchers acknowledged that the testimonials they collected were not intended to be construed as statistically significant. Rather, the research was aimed at trying to understand the issues that may be contributing to negative views and distrust of the police in Ottawa, a trend that the Ottawa Police Service’s own statistics have shown to be on the rise.

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“In our sample,” Moffette said, “it shows that for a lot of people in our city, in Ottawa, the police don’t make them feel safer — quite the contrary — and that raises a number of questions about how many services they need, the role the police play in our community and how we can think of strategies to develop real safety for all.

Most, but not all, of the interactions detailed in the report were with the Ottawa Police Service; some involved other police departments operating within the city limits.

Steve Bell, the acting chief of the OPS, recently said he wanted to restore public confidence in the police. The service did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication on Tuesday.

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