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Steve Collins covers urban affairs and other issues facing the nation's capital.

Night vision goggles and a skewed view of 'accurate'

By local standards, it was a bumpy summer for the Ottawa Police Service.

Police Chief Charles Bordeleau

The Canadian Press

Police Chief Charles Bordeleau

Some cities, like Tulsa and Charlotte and so many others where police have lost the trust of people they're charged with protecting and serving, have real problems.

Still, by (much higher) local standards, it was a bumpy summer for the Ottawa Police Service, with scathing public criticism of Chief Charles Bordeleau from the police union and the death of Abdirahman Abdi after a violent encounter with officers.

Trust in the police – and news media, for that matter – took another hit this summer when we found out that reporters were fed, and passed on, misleading information in the Jagtar Gill murder investigation in 2014.

Police had removed a metal bar from the victim's home and replaced it with a fake, then kept her husband, a suspect, under surveillance. When he ditched the fake, they issued a release about having “found” it.

Police board member Sandy Smallwood had mildly inquired, “under what circumstances can our police service issue statements to the media that may not be accurate.” The chief's answer, presented at Monday's board meeting, could have been better:

“The Ottawa Police utilizes various investigative tools and techniques in support of its investigations. The facts in the release were accurate. The release explained that the police were seeking public assistance and that a metal bar was located in the wooded area of Cedarview Road.

“The Ottawa Police Service strives to issue statements to the media that are accurate and support the investigation.”

Nice of them to strive, I guess, but that's a pretty loose use of the word 'accurate.' Those facts were manufactured and the media and the public misled to mess with two murderers' heads. It may have helped secure convictions, but we still don't know under which less extreme circumstances our police might consider deceiving the public a legitimate tool or technique.

Another item on Monday's agenda was an update on the Traffic Stop Race Collection Project, that ongoing exercise in paradox by which the force assures us of their colour-blindness by actively recording the races of motorists they stop.

“The OPS is committed to bias-neutral policing and recognizes that addressing racial profiling concerns requires a multi-pronged approach,” we're told. “Race-based data collection is an important tool.”

This survey was not an initiative of the Ottawa Police Service to improve policing. It was part of a settlement with the Ontario Human Rights Commission – over a bias complaint.

The 2005 complaint came from Ottawa resident Chad Aiken, who was driving his mother’s Mercedes when he was pulled over by police and, he claimed, harassed and assaulted. He’s black, and believed that was the main reason police stopped him.

Last year, the police commissioned a public opinion survey in which most respondents said they didn't feel safe downtown at night, especially on multiuse pathways and at and transit stations.

The survey recommended more police visibility in public places, but the only major spending item on the table at that particular meeting was $407,045 for 29 pairs of night vision goggles.

That would have paid for a lot of pathway lighting, but at least our police can see in the dark and probably only lie to us when it's really important.

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