Alberta Government Changes to the Police Practice of Street Checks

The provincial government recently announced new rules and changes to the police practice of street checks. Street checks occur when police stop someone for a specific reason and question them about that reason.

Changes to this practice include mandating that police review their street check data on a quarterly basis and report this data to the province. These changes are meant to provide a form of accountability and transparency in police practices and allow for review to ensure that police are not arbitrarily stopping people to check their identification, a practice known as “carding”. 

What is important for citizens to know is that under these new rules, if you are stopped for a street check, police must inform you that it is voluntary and you do not have to provide them any information or answer any questions.

Such changes arise in the context of current debates around defunding the police and putting those resources towards social assistance programs such as for mental health and substance abuse. The argument is that less focus, time, and resources be spent on reacting to social disorder and crime after the fact when more preventative measures can be taken at the outset to help avoid the need for police arising out of crime in the first place.

While putting some accountability measures into street checks is a step forward to ensure police are not over stopping people arbitrarily, it does not help to address or focus on the real issues that are causing social disorder. Also, in stopping people for checks, it is merely a hope that something will come of the interaction/check as opposed to spending police time and resources focusing on known areas or problems.

Of course these new measures are not a bad thing per se, however, a larger shift needs to occur in policing and where funds are placed before we are to see any major changes or improvements in the current crises such as the opioid pandemic and the limited supports for mental health services and substance abuse treatment.

The other question that arises out of street checks is the risk that police can still simply claim they stopped someone for such and such reason, however, that reason may not necessarily be true or of legitimate concern, in an attempt to mask an arbitrary stop of someone. This is another reason to be highly wary of the practice of street checks and why further accountability and transparency is necessary. This should not be the end of the discussion and measures being implemented to address these problems.