Police Discretion with Young Offenders

III. Environmental Factors Affecting Police Discretion

4.0 The nature of the community

4.2 Socio-demographic characteristics (continued)

4.2.3 Tourists

When we asked police officers about residential instability in relation to crime and law enforcement, many referred to "tourists" rather than "transients". The distinction is that "tourists" refers to people who make the area their destination for recreational activity, or who are seasonal visitors, such as cottagers; whereas "transients" was used to denote people who are merely "passing through" the area and/or are homeless.

32% of police agencies and detachments said that their communities experience a significant amount of tourist traffic. As a result, their populations fluctuate seasonally. For example, the North East Region of the OPP, which has its headquarters in North Bay, serves a "permanent" population of 285,000, which "increases to 400,000 in the summer months" (Ontario Provincial Police, 2003).

We found no significant differences in the use of police discretion with young persons between police agencies with, and without, a significant tourist population.

4.2.4 Aboriginal population

One of the major areas of concern for Canadian criminologists and criminal justice policy-makers has been the relationship of aboriginal Canadians to the criminal justice system (Canadian Criminal Justice Association, 2000; Normandeau and Leighton, 1990). [50] Aboriginals are greatly over-represented in the courts and prisons (Canadian Criminal Justice Association, 2000; LaPrairie, 1993, 1995; Nielson, 1992). According to Forcese (1992) and Harding (1991), it is likely that aboriginals are disproportionately apprehended and charged by police, although this is difficult to determine with any certainty, since many Canadian police services do not provide breakdowns by race of persons charged to Statistics Canada (Gabor, 1994; Roberts, 1994; cf. American Sociological Association, 2002). One study, using UCR2 data for parts of Canada for 1992-1993, found that aboriginal youth who were apprehended by police were much more likely to be charged, even when other aspects of the case, such as the seriousness of the offence and use of alcohol or drugs, were controlled (Carrington, 1998a).[51]

According to a review of the literature by Griffiths & Verdun-Jones (1994: 641-642),

…relations between the police and Aboriginals are often characterized by mutual hostility and distrust, increasing the likelihood of conflict and high arrest rates…[relations are] seriously deficient…there are strong feelings of mistrust, if not hatred, directed towards RCMP members in some areas…[many officers have] a lack of knowledge of Aboriginal culture…[there are] a lack of communication and misperceptions…police officers place too much emphasis on law enforcement and do not spend enough time on other activities that would better address community needs…the transfer policy of the RCMP, which often results in officers spending only two or three years in a community, has been identified as a major obstacle to the development of positive police-community relations.

It should be noted that this characterization is based on public inquiries conducted more than 10 years ago, and that the philosophy of the RCMP has changed dramatically in the intervening period (e.g. the adoption of the National Youth Strategy). Furthermore, Griffiths & Verdun-Jones point out that mistrust and conflict might well have arisen from lack of knowledge, miscommunication, and misunderstanding, rather than from any "conscious bias" on the part of officers (1994: 642). As will be seen in Chapter V, our own research found no evidence of racial bias on the part of the officers whom we interviewed.[52]

Many aboriginal Canadians live in areas of poverty and social exclusion which might well be described as "socially disorganized" (Canadian Criminal Justice Association, 2000; Griffiths & Verdun-Jones, 1994: 635-637; LaPrairie, 1988, 1995; Léonard & Trevethan, 2003). Therefore, according to social disorganization theory (see Section 4.1 above), the communities in which they live could be expected to be subject to higher levels of crime and of formal action by police. There is evidence of higher crime rates among aboriginals, especially assaults and alcohol-related crime (Griffiths & Verdun-Jones, 1994: 638-639).

On the other hand, some of the key ideas associated with informal social control and alternatives to formal court processing of offenders are derived from traditional aboriginal practices which rely on the community, rather than officials, to respond to deviant and criminal behaviour (Depew, 1992; Jobson, 1993; LaPrairie, 1992); and Canadian law and judicial practice have afforded some recognition to the unique circumstances and culture of aboriginal Canadians. Therefore, there is reason to expect, at least in principle, that police who work in communities with significant aboriginal populations, whether on- or off-reserve, might use more informal action to resolve incidents involving aboriginal youth (Griffiths & Verdun-Jones, 1994: 652-653).

We asked officers

  • (a) whether their police service was responsible for policing a First Nations reserve,
  • (b) whether there was a reserve nearby which they did not police, and
  • (c) whether there were substantial numbers of aboriginal Canadians living off-reserve in their jurisdiction.

The distribution of answers is shown in Figure III.7 (percentages add to more than 100%, since multiple answers were possible). We then combined these answers into two mutually exclusive categories: agencies which have jurisdiction over a significant number of aboriginals (i.e. who answered that they policed a reserve and/or that there were significant numbers of aboriginals living off-reserve in the community), and those which do not.

Figure III.7 Aboriginal populations served by police services

Figure III.7 Aboriginal populations served by police services - - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.

Description of Figure III.7

42% of the police agencies in our sample police an aboriginal population: 24% of the independent municipal services, 43% of the provincial police detachments, 73% of the RCMP detachments, and, of course, all 3 First Nations police services. Exactly half of the police services in metropolitan areas said that they had significant numbers of aboriginals Canadians in their jurisdiction; as did exactly half of the rural and small town police services; whereas, only 16% of suburban/exurban police services identified an aboriginal population in their jurisdictions. The regional distribution is shown in Figure III.8.

Figure III.8 Regional distribution of police agencies which serve aboriginal populations

Figure III.8 Regional distribution of police agencies which serve aboriginal populations - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.

Description of Figure III.8

The police services which have jurisdiction over aboriginal populations differ from other police services in their use of informal action, alternative measures, and methods of compelling appearance. Some of these differences are slight; however, in some cases the difference is substantial, suggesting a different style of policing.

According to UCR statistics on the proportion of apprehended youth who were charged, police services in our sample which police aboriginals are slightly more likely to lay charges (64% of apprehended youth charged) than those which do not (60%). This difference is entirely due to the police services which police off-reserve aboriginals (65% of apprehended youth charged), since those 17 police services which police a First Nations reserve are slightly less likely than average to charge an apprehended youth (60% of apprehended youth charged).

Police services that police aboriginal populations are slightly more likely to say that they use various forms of informal action. Virtually all (98%) of the agencies which police aboriginals use informal warnings, compared to 89% of other police services. These agencies are also slightly more likely to employ formal warnings (38%) than agencies in communities with no aboriginal youth (27%). Agencies policing aboriginals are less likely to bring a young offender home or to the police station for questioning (20%) than other agencies (33%). When asked whether there are any offences with which officers would almost always consider using informal action, officers in services which police aboriginals are more likely to consider informal action in all circumstances (minor offences, serious offences, provincial offences, and shoplifting). Furthermore, 23% of these officers said that they would almost always consider informal action with provincial offences compared to 10% of those officers who do not police an aboriginal population.

Agencies which police on- and off-reserve aboriginals are almost twice as likely (35% vs. 18%) to use a community based pre-charge restorative justice program to divert youth prior rather than laying a charge. These agencies are also less likely to use post-charge alternative measures (78%) than other police services (100% of which use post-charge alternative measures). Thus, the net-widening which is associated with the use of post-charge alternative measures may apply less in communities with aboriginal populations.

Agencies which police aboriginals are less likely to use a summons to compel the appearance of a young person (31%) than agencies that do not police aboriginals (45%). Further, 43% of the agencies policing aboriginals "rarely" use an appearance notice (compared to 24% of other police agencies). Thus, it is not surprising that agencies policing aboriginals are more likely to use a Promise to Appear with minor offences (25%) than other agencies (7%). They are also more likely (65%) to use a PTA with an attached OIC undertaking. There were no differences between agencies for the conditions of a curfew or attend school. However, agencies policing aboriginals were more likely to attach the conditions of no go, no association, keep the peace and be of good behaviour, no alcohol or drugs, and no weapons; however, there was no difference between the two types of police agencies in the use of a curfew or school attendance as conditions of an OIC undertaking.

Some differences are evident in the reasons given for detention. Agencies policing aboriginals are slightly more likely to detain because the youth is a repeat offender (53%) than other agencies (42%). They are also slightly more likely to detain "in the best interests of the youth" or if the youth is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Officers suggested that alcohol and drug abuse are rampant in aboriginal communities; and, in many cases, the entire family has a substance abuse problem. As a result, in many more cases than they would prefer, they detain a young person for his or her "own safety". These agencies are also more likely to detain a young person for a judicial interim release hearing for multiple breaches (45%) than agencies that do not police aboriginals (29%).

In general, officers told us that policing aboriginals can be quite different from policing other types of youth. First, they have found high levels of substance abuse within aboriginal communities. This is a phenomenon that they say occurs not only on reserves or in big cities but also in isolated detachments and "dry" communities. Police officers stationed in the Territories related stories about the increasing levels of solvent abuse in the North. Coupled with alcohol and drug addictions is the lack of social services and programming for these high-risk youth. Second, officers suggested that the aboriginal communities they police tend to be relatively poor. The youth do not have as many opportunities as non-aboriginal youth whom the officers encounter. Finally, officers said that they commonly see low levels of school attendance among aboriginal youth. One officer in Alberta suggested that the youth from the reserve he polices go to school for "maybe a month or two" out of the whole academic year. An RCMP officer stationed in Nunavut described an experience he had with an aboriginal male. His story contains the typical elements of many such stories which we were told: the criminogenic conditions in which many aboriginal youth live, the remarkable extent of the "informal action" used by officers dealing with aboriginal youth, and the ambiguous outcome.

[This was a] real sad situation. It was a guy, [called] John[53] in Nunavut[54], [who] I was arresting 2-3 times a week, for sniffing hair spray, propane, [and] everything else. I sat down with him, spoke to him, basically his parents were from Nunavut, alcohol, sexual abuse, drugs, you name it. Basically he was a lost lamb. I worked with him, checked up on him regularly, I spoke, got him into the school program, he was on community service work, but we followed up on it, checked on it, gave him lots of support. How you doing? Made sure he wasn't left alone. He joined the drama department in Nunavut, he passed his courses, he wasn't stellar, he passed, he travelled with the drama show in Nunavut, made a video of it as well. Sense of pride, sense of belonging. Then, because of his community service work he got a job with the hamlet part-time, and they liked him so much they wanted him to go to Inuvik, as a recreational counsellor. Raised funds, got sponsorship, spoke with the airlines to get him to Outward Bound in Thunder Bay, that was all paid for. Half these people have never been out of their settlement. He came back, I sent an itinerary, he travelled all by himself, he was alone in Ottawa in a hotel, 16, 17, maybe 18. I phoned him every day, checked up on him, told him exactly what to do, phone the front desk, tell them you want a wake up call, I will phone you at 5 am. By the end of the Outward Bound program it was all good. He came back, he had a spark of life in his eyes, you could see the change, rather than [that] lost laze. Everything was going great, he went to Inuvik, except his girlfriend was 15 years old, she got pregnant, their family environment was not motivated and their motivation was on substances, getting a lot of pressure, why should you seek a goal, why should you seek aspirations, I'm having a child, we can collect welfare. According to the story I heard, all of a sudden he went to speak to a counsellor in Inuvik, and the counsellor went, relax, gave up and came back, started slipping again. At least he got a job in Nunavut, he still had problems, but, and was dragged down again, but he was at least employed, he go his drivers licence, now he's a garbage collector, […] But, that's the support a lot of these kids need, structure, support all the way along, self worth. In the programs or whatever for success, that needs to be incorporated. And it's not a temporary basis, it needs to be, something they can realize a difference, sending them out to Frog Lake for a treatment, that's the magic word, treatment, treatment.

Despite these dismal observations, some of the RCMP officers stationed in the Territories and members of the Winnipeg Police Service have developed innovative programming specifically for aboriginal youth. One RCMP officer described a program he developed in Nunavut called the "Miss School Miss Out" program.

What I did, I phoned all across the country, went to Yellowknife and […] got prizes, as many prizes, anything, I got the airlines to fly it in, I got [a local company] to take a 45 gallon drum, cut it in half and make a BBQ, donated charcoal, and what we're going to do is basically bribe the kids to stay in school. The schools, it was 76 people in the school, kindergarten to grade 11. What had happened, if you had perfect attendance every month, you'd win a prize. We gave away jackets, Polaroid cameras, and [it] worked, If there were bigger prizes, for the kindergartens they would get candies, baseball caps, toys, something, so the kids now wanted to go to school, they wanted perfect attendance. And I'd get Pizza Hut Pizza flown in from Yellowknife, it was frozen, donated, then those people with perfect attendance, we watched a movie, had pizza and pop and we got pop from the co-op, the rest that didn't have perfect attendance had to work for that afternoon. [With these kids], we had the BBQ, we went and shot a musk ox and caribou and we had boom burgers and musk ox burgers, we made them. We'd go out sliding for the afternoon, while the other kids had to stay in. So now what you had is people wanting to come to school. They don't want to miss out, they need to sleep, you didn't have half the violence anymore - why? It became structured. At the end of the year we gave away a computer, a mustang jacket, every month they'd receive something, they'd have some activity, we'd put them in the plane, fly them over Polaris mine where they'd go swimming, have a meal there, [and] fly back. It worked wonders in the sense, the first year, they had their first ever graduate and the next year they had 5 graduates.

Unfortunately, only some aspects of the program are still in operation at that detachment. A commonly occurring problem is that an officer is dedicated to a program, and then is transferred elsewhere. The incoming officer is not as interested and does not continue to put as much effort into the program, and it founders. Police officers in all types of police forces agree that innovative programming will last if the police get the program up and running and then the community takes over the supervisory role. The police are still involved but in a secondary way. Officers in Winnipeg have designed diversion programs geared specifically to aboriginal youth. They established links with the local aboriginal elders and, as a result, primary, secondary, and tertiary programs are delivered to aboriginal youth (including many healing circles for all types of offences).

4.3 Level and type of crime in the community

The literature suggests that decision-making by police can be influenced by their perceptions of the level of crime in their jurisdiction (Sampson, 1986). We asked our respondents how much youth crime existed in the area which they policed. 55% of the police agencies and detachments suggested they had a "normal amount" of youth crime; 29% had "a lot" of youth crime, and 17% answered "not very much".

Although crime statistics show no relationship between the size of communities in Canada and their crime rates (see Section 4.1 above), officers perceived a relationship: 40% of officers in metropolitan agencies perceived "a lot" of youth crime in their jurisdiction, compared to 31% in suburban/exurban services, and only 19% in rural and small town police services. Similarly, 22% of officers in rural and small town agencies identified "not very much" youth crime in their jurisdiction, compared to 19% of officers in suburban/exurban, and only 8% of those in metropolitan police services. The regional distribution is shown in Figure III.9.

Figure III.9 Regional distribution of police agencies which perceive "a lot" of youth crime

Figure III.9 Regional distribution of police agencies which perceive "a lot" of youth crime - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.

Description of Figure III.9

Urbanization and social disorganization theories of social control propose that, in urban areas, which suffer from higher rates of social disorganization and perceived deviance and crime, police will compensate for the breakdown of informal social control in the community by using more formal social control themselves, in the form of more arrests and more charging. On the other hand, the "overload hypothesis" proposes that police in urban areas are "overloaded" with crime, and respond by only arresting or laying charges in more serious cases; with the result of a relatively low charge rate.

Analysis of UCR data on the proportion of apprehended youth who were charged produces a surprising result. Police agencies in our sample which work in communities in which officers perceive "not very much" youth crime have the highest average rate of charging (on average, during 1998-2000, they charged 66% of apprehended youth); those in communities with "a normal amount" of youth crime have the lowest charge rate (59%), and those with "a lot" of youth crime are intermediate in their use of discretion (62%). This is particularly surprising because officers who perceive "not very much" youth crime tend to work in rural areas and small towns, in which there is a tendency for police to charge less; and those who perceive "a lot" of youth crime tend to work in metropolitan areas, in which police tend to charge more (Section 4.1, above). Apparently, police in perceived high crime jurisdictions respond by using neither more discretion, as the overload hypothesis would suggest, nor less discretion, as urbanization and social disorganization theories predict. The relatively high rate of charging in communities where police perceive "not very much" youth crime may be explained by the overload hypothesis: in communities where police are not overloaded with a great deal of crime, they are able to make more use of formal measures such as laying charges. Alternatively, they may be under-reporting (to their own RMS and to the UCR) the number of youth apprehended but not charged, thus artificially inflating their statistical charge rate statistics (cf. Section 4.1, above)

Figure III.10 shows the use of three kinds of informal action, broken down by the perceived level of youth crime in the community. (The other types of informal action are unrelated to the level of crime.) The use of each type of informal action increases with the perceived level of youth crime, consistent with the overload hypothesis, and with the findings from analysis of UCR data (above).

Figure III.10 Types of informal action used, by the perceived level of youth crime in the community

Types of informal actio used, by the perceived level of youth crime in the community- If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.

Description of Figure III.10

Whether police agencies find feedback on alternative measures dispositions helpful is also related to their perception of the level of youth crime in the community. Police agencies that perceive a lot of youth crime are slightly more likely to find feedback useful (74%) than those who perceive a normal amount (69%) or not very much youth crime (60%). There were no differences for post-charge alternative measures.

A few differences also emerge in the methods which police officers use to compel the attendance of young person in court. Police agencies that perceive a lot of youth crime are more likely not to use a summons (55%) than agencies perceiving a normal amount (36%) or not very much youth crime (8%). This suggests that police officers in these areas rely on other means, such as an appearance notice, or a promise to appear. However, there were no noticeable differences in the use of an appearance notice or PTA between agencies which perceived different levels of youth crime. Thus, we speculate that the increased use of informal action in areas where officers perceive "a lot" of youth crime may decrease the number of minor offences that result in a charge. This is consistent with the hypothesis that only the more serious offences are formally processed in (perceived) high crime areas.

In cases where the young person is arrested and detained, a clear relationship appears between perceived levels of youth crime and the reasons for detention. Figure III.11 shows the differences in the reasons given for detaining a young offender. Each of these five reasons is more likely to be cited with increasing levels of perceived youth crime.

Figure III.11 Reasons to detain a young person for a JIR hearing, by perceived level of youth crime in the community

Reasons to detain a young person for a JIR hearing, by perceived level of youth crime in the community - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.

Description of Figure III.11

A similar pattern exists in the answers to our question about offences that would "almost always" result in arrest and detention. Police agencies with high levels of youth crime are more likely almost always to detain for serious offences (73%) than agencies in areas with a normal amount (64%) or not very much of youth crime (54%). These agencies are also more likely almost always to detain repeat offenders (45%) than police services with a normal amount (33%) or not very much youth crime (23%). Interestingly, agencies that perceive high levels of youth crime are more likely to almost always detain due to departmental policy (50%) than agencies with other levels of perceived youth crime (29%).

In the decision-making areas discussed above, the interview data suggest that police officers tend to use more discretion if they identified their jurisdiction as having a lot of youth crime. They are more likely to use various forms of informal action, and they are more likely to cite the "legalistic" reasons for detention: a serious offence, multiple breaches (of probation orders, OIC undertakings, or bail conditions), if the youth is already before the courts, or repeat offenders.

We also asked respondents about the types of youth crime they were dealing with on a regular basis. Figure III.12 shows the responses.

Figure III.12 Types of youth crime which are prevalent in the community

Figure III.12 Types of youth crime which are prevalent in the community - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.

Description of Figure III.12

Virtually every police agency and detachment (96%) indicated that youth commit minor property crimes (e.g. theft under, shoplifting). Over three-quarters (83%) also mentioned many minor crimes against the person, such as minor assaults.

Almost three-quarters of the sample (71%) mentioned serious property offences (e.g. break and enter). This was more prevalent in metropolitan jurisdictions (87%), and less in rural areas and small towns (61%). These agencies were spread fairly evenly across the provinces and Territories, with higher proportions in the Prairies (82%), and lower proportions in Quebec (56%) and British Columbia (58%).

Not surprisingly, only one-quarter (25%) of the police agencies and detachments cited a significant amount of serious violent crime (e.g. assault causing bodily harm). Once again, this was cited more frequently by metropolitan police services (43%) than suburban/exurban (32%) or rural/small town agencies (11%). The higher prevalence of serious personal and property crimes reported by our respondents in larger centres is consistent with the statistics on recorded crime (by persons of all ages): Leonard reports higher recorded per capita rates of serious violent and property crime in Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs) than in non-CMAs, and higher rates of minor assaults and weapons offences in non-CMAs (1997: 3). The regional distribution of agencies reporting serious violent youth crime as prevent in their jurisdiction is shown in Figure III.13.

Figure III.13 Regional distribution of police agencies which report dealing with a significant amount of serious violent youth crime

Figure III.13 Regional distribution of police agencies which report dealing with a significant amount of serious violent youth crime - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.

Description of Figure III.13

Some results were unexpected. 80% of the police agencies and detachments indicated that they deal with a significant number of drug offences and drug addiction with youth. These include 90% of metropolitan agencies, 84% or rural/small town agencies, and 63% of suburban/exurban police services. These are spread evenly across the regions of Canada, with the exception of the Territories, where 100% of agencies in the sample reported drug problems among youth in their jurisdiction.

Almost one-quarter of the sample of police services (24%) indicated that they have youth gangs in their jurisdiction. Once again, gangs were cited more often by metropolitan agencies (43%) than by suburban/exurban (32%) or rural/small town agencies (9%). The regional distribution is shown in Figure III.14, and underlines the extent of the youth crime problem in the Prairie provinces.

Figure III.14 Regional distribution of police agencies reporting youth gang problems

Figure III.14 Regional distribution of police agencies reporting youth gang problems - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.

Description of Figure III.14

Similarly, 14% of the sample (13 police agencies) indicated they have a "kiddie stroll" where youths under the age of eighteen are involved in prostitution. Twelve were in metropolitan areas, and one in a rural or small town jurisdiction. This concentration in large cities is also consistent with Leonard's findings: the rate of recorded prostitution-related incidents (by persons of all ages) in CMA's was more than 12 times as high in CMA's as in non-CMA jurisdictions (1997: Table 1). The regional distribution is shown in Figure III.15.

Figure III.15 Regional distribution of police agencies reporting teenage prostitution

Figure III.15 Regional distribution of police agencies reporting teenage prostitution - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.

Description of Figure III.15

40% of police services identified offences against the administration of justice (e.g. breach of conditions) as a problem. [55] These were somewhat more prevalent in metropolitan areas (53%) than in suburban/exurban (32%) or rural/small town jurisdictions (36%). The regional distribution is shown in Figure III.16.

Figure III.16 Regional distribution of police agencies reporting significant numbers of administration of justice offences involving young persons

Figure III.16 Regional distribution of police agencies reporting significant numbers of administration of justice offences involving young persons - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.

Description of Figure III.16

In summary, the overall numbers of police agencies in the sample which reported significant amounts of minor and major property and violent crime by young persons is consistent with statistical reports based on the UCR Survey. However, surprisingly high numbers of police agencies reported significant problems involving young people and drugs, gangs, and prostitution. All types of youth crime problems except minor property offences and minor assaults were cited most often by metropolitan police officers, and least by rural and small town police. This is consistent with statistics on crime by persons of all ages (Leonard, 1997). Just as agencies in the Prairies were most likely to report "a lot" of youth crime in their jurisdictions, so they were the most likely to cite significant problems with serious violent and property crime, youth gang problems, and administration of justice offences. The exception is teenage prostitution, which was most likely to be cited by agencies in British Columbia. Just as police agencies in the Atlantic region were most likely to say that they had "not very much" youth crime, so they were least likely to identify significant amounts of youth-related serious violent crime, or youth gangs. However, it was in Quebec that police agencies in our sample were least likely to mention problems with teenage prostitution and administration of justice offences.

There were no significant relationships between officers' perceptions of the types of crimes that were problems in their communities and their exercise of discretion with young offenders.

4.4 Community-police relations

Because of the importance of the community as the immediate environment of police work, and its likely impact on the ways in which officers do their work, we expected that the tone of the relationship between officers and the community would have an impact on their use of discretion. Policing has experienced a shift in philosophy over the past 15 years towards a "community policing" model, which fosters good relations between police and the community which they serve (Trojanowicz et al., 2002). According to Horne (1992), "By the 1990's, virtually every police force [in Canada] had incorporated the term 'community policing' in their written mandates." Therefore, we felt it was important to try to gauge how officers perceived the relationship between their agency and the community, and how, if at all, this affected the way in which they exercised their discretion with young persons.

We asked officers about the relationship between their agency and the community, and, in particular, if they found the community "supportive" of their work. We coded their responses into five categories. Very supportive includes responses where officers indicated they have strong relationships with the community and receive regular feedback as well as provide feedback. Generally supportive refers to relations that on average are supportive. There may be areas where the community is "not pleased"; but, on the whole, they are happy with the level and type of policing provided. Mixed refers to those respondents who said that the community was either neutral, or both unsupportive and supportive. Somewhat supportive refers to relations of lukewarm support: not hostile but definitely not overly supportive. Not supportive indicates answers ranging from a terse "not supportive" to that of one patrol officer, who said: "the community… they hate us".

In order to classify each police agency, we had to combine answers from more than one officer in the agency. This necessitated creating a new category - multiple answers - denoting police agencies in which the officers who were interviewed disagreed on the quality of community-police relations. 54% of the agencies and detachments in our sample fell into this category, indicating a great deal of disagreement (which was not evident in most of the other interview topics). Therefore, we explored this topic using the individual police officer, rather than the police agency, as the unit of analysis. Only 56 of the 194 officers in the sample answered this question. Figure III.17 shows the distribution of responses.

Figure III.17 Officers' perceptions of community-police relations

Figure III.17 Officers' perceptions of community-police relations - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.

Description of Figure III.17

The results are generally consistent with other Canadian research.[56] 62% of the respondents indicated that the relationship with the community is either "generally supportive" or "very supportive". Almost one-quarter (23%) suggested the relations are neither supportive nor unsupportive. Only a minority of respondents (14%) reported the relations with the community as "somewhat supportive" or "not supportive".

Police in suburban and exurban jurisdictions tended to perceive more support from the community than those in metropolitan or rural/small town jurisdictions. 83% of suburban/exurban officers found the community generally or very supportive, compared with 63% of rural/small town, and 56% of metropolitan officers. Similarly, no suburban/exurban officers found the community not supportive or only somewhat supportive, versus 6% of rural/small town officers and 33% of those in metropolitan police services. The regional distribution of responses is shown in Figure III.18.

Some previous research has found "mutual distrust and suspicion" between aboriginal Canadians and police (Griffiths and Verdun-Jones, 1994: 92). Although we did not ask directly about relations with aboriginals, the answers to our question about police-community relations provide some support, though it is not strong, for this view. Officers in agencies which have jurisdiction over a First Nations reserve are less likely to find the community generally or very supportive than other respondents (46% versus 67%). Those in agencies which have a reserve nearby, which they do not police, are also less likely than other officers to find the community generally or very supportive (50% versus 65%). Those in agencies which have significant numbers of off-reserve aboriginals in the community which they police are also less likely to find the community generally or very supportive (56% versus 66%), and are also twice as likely as other officers to find the community not supportive or only somewhat supportive (22% versus 11%).

Figure III.18 Regional distribution of police officers' perceptions of community support

Figure III.18 Regional distribution of police officers' perceptions of community support - If the following image is not accessible to you, please contact Youth Justice Policy at Youth-Jeunes@justice.gc.ca for an alternate format.

Description of Figure III.18

There were no systematic relationships between different levels of supportiveness in community-police relations and the exercise of discretion with young offenders. One minor exception is that officers who perceive the community to be generally or very supportive are more likely (28%) than officers in less supportive communities (0%) to work in an agency which uses an appearance notice with very minor offences.

Generally, officers seemed to feel that good community-police relations facilitate their work but do not influence how they exercise their discretion in youth-related incidents. Looked at from another perspective, the absence of relationships between perceived community-police relations and the exercise of police discretion suggests that the community's support for their police is rarely affected by the way in which the police do their job.


  • [50] The role of the race (aboriginal status) of the individual offender in police decision-making is discussed in Chapter V below; here, we are interested int he effect, if any, on police decision-making of working in a community with a significant aboriginal population.
  • [51] However, that study was unable to control for prior record, demeanour and victim preference, which might explain part or all of the elevated charge rates.
  • [52] However, our findings are limited by the fact that we interviewed only police officers and not the members of the communities which they police.
  • [53] The youth's name has been changed to protect his identity.
  • [54] The names of specific locations have been changed to Nunavut to protect the youth's identity.
  • [55] This issue is discussed ind etail in Capter II above.
  • [56] Reviewed by Griffiths and Verdun-Jones (1994: 89-92).

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