An alarming number of Canadian police officers ignore some potential crimes because they fear interactions with the public will come back to haunt them on social media, according to an officer-turned-researcher at Carleton University.

Doctoral researcher Greg Brown says this rise in so-called “de-policing” can be attributed to the rise of cellphones, as well as the elevated public sensitivity around police behaviour and treatment of minorities.

“De-policing is where you basically put the blinders on,” Brown told CTV Ottawa. That means officers will drive around and wait for orders to respond to an incident, rather than keeping an eye out for trouble.

He says many officers are particularly reluctant to enter public confrontations that have the potential to become verbally or physically heated in front of others. “By then… there’d be 10 people recording by that point,” he said.

Brown says approximately 70 per cent of officers are practising some form of de-policing, with more experienced officers turning a blind eye twice as often as those with fewer than five years of experience.

“That’s where you see a pronounced increase in de-policing,” he said.

Brown says de-policing is essentially the opposite of proactive policing, which involves keeping an eye out for trouble and engaging where necessary. This differs from reactive policing, which consists of responding to 911 calls issued by a dispatcher.

Brown, who has 28 years of policing experience, interviewed 3,660 officers for his research, which he is slated to defend as a thesis later this year. Brown spoke to officers from around the country and found that trends did not vary by a significant amount from city to city.

He says he hopes the research will initiate a dialogue about the scrutiny police face from the public on a daily basis.

With files from CTV Ottawa’s Megan Shaw