Most Canadians assume that, if they see evidence of a crime, they should phone their local police. After all, our police are always talking about being in partnership with the community, aren't they? And, surely they want to know of any crimes that happen in their area so they can do something to solve and reduce crime, right?
In Ottawa, Canada: wrong.
I'd just moved to Ottawa from neighbouring Gloucester. On a morning walk, I noted a car parked on a local street that had been vandalised and dumped. I called the Ottawa police reporting line with the vehicle description and license plate number and was coldly informed that I was not permitted to provide such information to the police unless I was the victim of a crime, in this case the registered owner of the car.
I checked with the constables assigned specifically to our neighbourhood police center. They confirmed that this was indeed Ottawa Police policy. A further check with a staff sergeant elicited the same answer.
If the Ottawa Police were in fact partners with the community, they would have taken down the information and said, "We'll check into it.". They then would have looked up the owner of the car given its license plate (which they can do but I can't) and checked with the owner to see if the state and location of the vehicle is known to that owner. In this case, it wasn't. Then, when the vehicle was reunited with its owner as a result (as it was, by Ottawa bylaw services once they opened for business the following Monday), I should have got a phone call, "Your information helped. Thank you."
That's what the Gloucester Police did throughout my decade as chair of the Gloucester City Center Safety Committee. And, it's what the Ontario Provincial Police did during the 20 years I lived in rural Cumberland Township before that.
For people to feel safe in our community, we need to respect and trust our police. In return, our police have to partner with us in dealing with crimes that occur where we and our children live, work and go to school.
For people to feel safe in our community, this policy of refusing to accept information about crimes must change.
other notes on community matters
Footnote: On 11 October 2006, a resident of Belleville had his car stolen in Ottawa. He reported the loss to Ottawa police.
A month later, he received a parking ticket in the mail, for his car, complete with the address of the parking lot where it was breaking the law.
He phoned Ottawa police with the news. They refused to check it out. He had to drive to Ottawa from Belleville himself. There his car was, the front door locks broken, and crack pipes, booze bottles and spilled liquor strewn around the inside.
How many people tried to phone Ottawa Police to tell them of his car? We'll never know.