Race-Based Data Shows Over-Policing
Chief James Ramer issued an apology to Black, Indigenous and racialized people who are over-represented in use-of-force incidents and strip searches.
Speaking at a news conference on June 15 at police headquarters to release findings detailing the analysis of race-based data collected in use-of-force and strip search interactions, he said the results confirm what racialized communities – particularly the Black and Indigenous communities – have been saying for decades.
“That is that they are disproportionately over-policed,” said Ramer. “This data demonstrates the unfortunate realities of those experiences. As an organization, we have not done enough to ensure that every person in our city receives fair and unbiased policing. For this, as Chief of Police and on behalf of the Service, I am sorry and I apologize unreservedly.”
The report findings detailed differences by race in use of force incidents. Black, East/Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern and Latino people were over-represented in reported use of force incidents compared to their presence in the enforcement action population. Enforcement actions included incident reports of arrests resulting in charges (including released at scene) or released without charges; Provincial Offences Act Part III tickets summons; cautions; diversions; apprehensions, and those with role type “subject” or “suspect."
The findings also showed differences by race in strip search rates with Black, Indigenous and White people over-represented relative to their presence in arrests throughout 2020. In October of 2020, the Toronto Police Service changed its Search of Persons procedure. After the changes were made, there was no over-representation for Indigenous people in strip searches; however, the over-representations for Black and White people remained.
Ramer acknowledged that the data release will trigger pain for many community citizens.
“Your concerns have deep roots and go beyond the release of today’s report,” he said. “We must improve and we will do better… As challenging as our findings are, this day presents an opportunity for us to be better and to do better. In fact, because our legitimacy is tied to public trust, it tells us that we must be better. On behalf of my Command as the leaders of this organization, we take full responsibility.
“We have often heard from communities that apologies alone are not sufficient and we agree. It is also our responsibility to identify the systems and procedures that are contributing to the unfair treatment of racialized people and to address it head-on. We will do all we can to fix this and some of this important work is already underway.”
As part of the provincial government 2019 Anti-Racism Act, Ontario’s police services were directed to start collecting race-based data in instances of reportable use-of-force.
TPS approved a ‘Race-Based Data Collection, Analysis and Public Reporting’ policy with the aim of identifying, measuring and eliminating systemic racism.
The Service is taking multiple benchmark approach to help see different outcomes in the policing pathway for each race group. Identifying these patterns helps us to know where there may be opportunities for improvement to reduce use-of-force or strip search outcomes, to more accurately identify the issues that contribute to disparate outcomes, and to leverage change.
“I can confidently say that the approach we have used reflects the best practices for race-data collection,” said Ramer. “It exemplifies what communities have asked of us and it adheres to leading practices and the anti-racism data standards.
“We have used careful statistical applications to achieve an advanced level of objectivity and measurability. We have invested much time and effort in this endeavor and we will continue to do so. We have laid the foundation so that we can continue to focus on ongoing reform and truly analyze what is happening… Our goal is to focus our efforts on the systemic bias attributable to our actions, which we can control.”
In recent years, the Chief noted that the Service has been grappling with addressing and rooting out the complexities of systemic racism.
“We recognize that when a person has an encounter with the police, it can have a profound impact on their life, mental health and their trust in policing,” he said. “It is for this reason that the Toronto Police Service must be a driving force and a leader in eliminating all forms of racial discrimination in policing and anywhere it is found. It is a reason we must engage the communities most impacted and continue along this journey… You deserve better and our members deserve better.”
The Chief said the Service and the Toronto Police Services Board embrace this opportunity to eliminate discrimination.
“In implementing a policy as a first measure, the Service is committed to collecting and analyzing data, not only in relation to incidents where officers use reportable force in the performance of their duties, but we are committed to doing the same with strip searches,” he said. “With the release of the initial results of this report and ongoing work, we recognize that today will be a difficult day for many within the Service and within the communities we serve.
“It is difficult for the Toronto Police Service because our own analysis of our data from 2020 discloses that there is systemic discrimination in our policing in these areas. That is that there is a disproportionate impact experienced by racialized people and, particularly those from Black communities when there is a use-of-force interaction with the Toronto Police Service.”
As challenging as it is for Ramer and other Command members to come to terms with the data, the Chief said he recognizes it is even more difficult for members of Toronto Black communities who have been saying for years that that they have been over-policed.
“I want our communities to know that I am listening,” he said. “I also acknowledge the impact that systemic bias has on Indigenous communities in Toronto. We know that their specific experience and the history of policing that is so intertwined with that experience has left our organization less trusting by members of Indigenous communities. We are not seen as the true partner for community safety that we are and want to be. We know that this is a role that must be earned.”
The Service has identified 38 actions to address the use-of-force and strip searches outcomes that can be found on the Race-Based Data Collection webpage.
“This is just the start of our work,” said Ramer. “Over time, we will collect race-based data arising out of other types of actions so that we can learn more and take the same approach to those interactions. That is determining if there are disparities, work with our community partners to understand why and to identify concrete actions to correct any wrongs. We have gone, and will continue to go, beyond our mandated scope of work out of a sincere desire to understand the extent to which systemic racism has led to deferential treatment by our Service. We could not fix what we could not measure.”
Speaking directly to Service members, the Chief said the data analysis addresses systemic racism and not individual acts of racism.
“This data analysis demonstrates that we have not done enough as an organization to combat the systemic underpinning that can then help you to do your work free of bias so as to instill trust in all the communities we are sworn to serve and protect,” he said. “I want you to know that this is an organizational shortcoming and it does not speak to your actions as individual police officers and civilian members.
“Each member of the organization should find the information released today difficult and uncomfortable. It may in fact lead you to reflect on your role in policing and understandably so. That said, I believe our membership has never been more committed to aggressive and inclusive change at all ranks and positions, both sworn and civilian. Together, with the support of the Board, let us use this as a watershed moment to redouble our efforts to eradicate racism in all its forms. You are uniquely positioned to help this Service implement the changes needed.”
The Service consulted with community representatives throughout the process.
Comprising 12 residents from Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities and youth representatives from varying backgrounds, the RBDC Community Advisory Panel was formed to help define the Service’s approach and guide its work.
“I want to thank and acknowledge the engagement and contribution of our community consultative groups, including the RBDC Community Advisory Panel, the Police and Community Engagement Review Committee, the Board’s Anti-Racism Advisory Panel and the Association of Black Law Enforcers,” added Ramer. “You have held us to account and we thank you for your candour and commitment to continue to help us address this multifaceted issue. We would also like to recognize our collaboration with the Ontario Human Rights Commission in their ongoing inquiry into systemic racism in policing in Toronto.”
Expert analysts within the Service’s Equity, Inclusion and Human Rights Unit, led the RBDC Strategy work that was overseen by Command members, including the Chief Information officer and a Deputy Chief.