‘There is systemic discrimination in our policing’: New Toronto police data confirms officers use more force against Black people

Significant. However, most activists remain sceptical, at least the ones I heard on CBC:

The hard data proves what has long been known and felt by members of the city’s Black communities.

Toronto police officers use more force against Black people, more often, with no clear explanation why. Except for race.

That is a key takeaway from a landmark new report containing never-before-seen data on officer use of force and strip searches — statistics that, for the first time, were collected and released by the Toronto Police Service itself.

The race-based statistics are so stark that Chief James Ramer offered an apology to the city’s Black community, coinciding with the release of a 119-slide presentation on the force’s findings.

“I am sorry and I apologize unreservedly,” Ramer said Wednesday morning.

“Our own analysis of our data from 2020 discloses that there is systemic discrimination in our policing,” Ramer said. “That is, there is a disproportionate impact experienced by racialized people, particularly those of Black communities.”

Meanwhile, police this weekend warned officers to brace for a “challenging” public reaction that will “lead some people to question the hard work you do every day.” 

Among the major findings: In 2020, Toronto officers used force on Black people about four times more often than their share of the population — and Black Torontonians were five times more likely to have force used against them than white ones. 

And in those cases when force was used, an officer was more than twice as likely to draw a firearm on a Black person they thought was unarmed than a white person they thought was unarmed. 

The statistics show overrepresentation in other racialized communities, too. If you are Indigenous, you were more likely to be subjected to a strip search, a highly invasive police practice; and members of the Latino, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian communities were also more likely to have force used against them.

The sobering data released Wednesday aligns with past external reports that have found Black people are overrepresented in police use of forcein this city. 

But the new data uses internal police records to go a step further, evaluating racial disparities in police use of force not only against the city’s population but within the pool of people interacting with police — those who were arrested, considered suspects, ticketed for provincial offences and more.

“This allows us to compare outcomes against the population that actually had contact with police,” a Toronto police statement said, adding it allows police to “focus our efforts on the actions that we can control.”

In other words: If officers were simply responding to higher rates of crime in any one group, this method should make the racial disparity disappear.

Even here, Black people were overrepresented, found to be 1.6 times more likely to be subjected to force compared to their percentage of total police interactions in 2020. Latino people were overrepresented by 1.5 times and Middle Eastern people were overrepresented by 1.2 times.

And Black people were already more than twice as likely to be the subject of this baseline police enforcement. Although they represented approximately 10 per cent of the city’s population in 2020, they accounted for 22 per cent of what police called “enforcement actions,” including arrests, tickets and other stops.

The police report has been independently peer-reviewed, Ramer said. 

He added: “This is some of the most important work we have ever done.”

Where the data is coming from

The race-based data released Wednesday details the use of force and strip searches conducted by Toronto police in 2020.

The use of force data is taken from Ontario’s “use of force reports” — documents required to be filled out whenever an officer uses physical force requiring medical attention, deploys a TASER, or draws or points their firearm. In 2019, Ontario’s provincial government required all police services to begin recording the officer’s perception of the race of the person they used force against.

Toronto police then cross-referenced these reports with internal “occurrence” reports — allowing them to conduct a deeper analysis, including of the type of call and the location of the incident.

In total in 2020, Toronto police said there were 949 use of force incidents involving 1,224 members of the public. Of those, 39 per cent were perceived as Black, while 36 per cent were perceived as white. (In 2020, 46 per cent of Toronto’s population was white.)

In 2020, Toronto police also began recording officer perception of race for strip searches — an invasive procedure conducted on people who are arrested. For years, Toronto police and other services were not capturing race-based data on strip searches, something critics said was long overdue.

The data analysis independently reviewed “leading experts” in race data collection with a human rights lens, Toronto police said. Since it began collecting race-based data, Toronto police has been consulting with a community advisory committee that includes members of Black, Indigenous and racialized communities.

Use of force — from low to high

Police use of force reports capture a range of interactions. Lower level force includes the use of aerosol spray, a baton, a police dog or a strike with a hand. Less lethal force is the use of a Taser or bean bag gun, and higher levels of force include when a firearm is pointed or discharged.

Of the 949 use of force incidents in 2020, a firearm was pointed at someone 371 times. The gun was fired four times, twice killing someone.

When officers use force, Toronto police were more likely to point a firearm toward a Black person compared to a white person.

Even in situations where police believed the subject was armed, a Black person was 1.5 times more likely to have a gun pulled on them than a white person in the same scenario.

The difference increased even when police didn’t think the subject had a weapon. In that scenario, a Black person was more than twice as likely as a white person to have a police officer pull out their gun and point it at them.

Black, South Asian and East/Southeast Asian people were more likely to experience higher uses of force compared to white people when it came to “less than lethal force,” such as a bean bag gun.

Locations

https://misc.thestar.com/interactivegraphic/2022/06-june/15-use-of-force-rate-map/index-doubled.html

Toronto police also examined police officer use of force rates in police divisions across the city. The results showed that, overall, incidents involving white people had lower use of force rates while those involving Black people had higher use of force rates. 

The differences appear to be stark in some mid-Toronto police divisions, including downtown’s 51 and 52 Divisions. 

In those areas, officers used force on a white person in .5 to .75 per cent of all enforcement interactions (such as arrests). But when the person was Black, force was used in more than 1.75 per cent of these same interactions — numbers that show these divisions used force against Black people around two to four times more frequently.

The differences, Toronto police said, are “not explained” by the demographic makeup of the local population. 

In other divisions there is a much lower racial disparity, or none at all, according to the data. In Scarborough’s 42 Division and midtown’s 53 Division, for example, the data shows no difference in use of force between white and Black people.

Calls for service and types of offences 

In calls for service that were classified as violent, Black people were 1.2 times more likely and Indigenous people were 1.4 times more likely to be on the receiving end of officer use of force, according to the data.

With calls regarding a person in crisis, Black people were nearly two times more likely to be subjected to force, while Indigenous people were 1.4 times.

Black people were found to be more likely to be subjected to police officer use of force in incidents involving assaults, mental health calls, fraud, mischief and robbery. 

Strip searches

In 2020, more than 22 per cent of all arrests — more than one in five — resulted in a strip search by Toronto police (7,114 strip searches in total, from 31,979 arrests). 

Of those, 31 per cent of those strip searched were perceived as Black, roughly three times their share of the population and higher than their 27-per-cent share of total arrests.

Indigenous people showed the highest overrepresentation in strip searches. They were overrepresented by 1.3 times compared to their presence in all Toronto police arrests. They accounted for just three per cent of the total arrests but represented to 4 per cent of all strip searches. 

The data was collected the same year Toronto police made a significant policy change to strip searches in response to a scathing report by Ontario’s police complaints watchdog that found the force conducted “far too many” strip searches. Before, more than 27 per cent of arrests resulted in a strip search; following the changes, which included having a supervisor sign off on all strip searches, that number dropped to 4.9 per cent of arrests.

Data from 2021 shows a marked decline in the number of strip searches, though arrests involving white and Black people were still more likely to result in a strip search, compared to the average. 

Source: ‘There is systemic discrimination in our policing’: New Toronto police data confirms officers use more force against Black people

And a somewhat contrary view regarding the need to include the context of crime rates in communities:

The problem with the Toronto Police report released Wednesday concluding that Blacks, Indigenous people and other racial minorities are disproportionately targeted by police when it comes to use-of-force incidents and body searches, is that it looks at only half the issue. It concludes the reason for this is systemic racism within the police force, for which Police Chief James Ramer publicly apologized and pledged to do better going forward, noting the study recommends 38 “action items” police will implement along with dozens of recommendations in other studies.

But what the report excludes are the crime rates in the various communities with which the police interact.

Logically that’s part of the equation because if they are higher in some communities than others, that will impact the frequency and type of their interactions with police.

However, it has been illegal for police forces in Ontario to gather or reveal this data for decades.

That was the result of a controversy that erupted in 1989 when then Toronto police superintendent Julian Fantino released statistics suggesting Blacks in one Toronto community were disproportionately involved in crime.

Fantino said he did it to counter allegations police were racist.But politicians, criminologists and civil rights groups responded that releasing the data without the context that the Black community was over-policed, was unscientific and would feed into racism.

As a result, race-based police statistics today are used solely to search for systemic bias within policing.

Scot Wortley of the University of Toronto and Maria Jung of Toronto Metropolitan University in a 2020 report for the Ontario Human Rights Commission which concluded Blacks were disproportionately arrested and charged by Toronto police compared to whites, cited both theories to explain why this happens.

One is the “Bias Thesis” which argues, “Black people are over-represented in police statistics because they are subject to biased or discriminatory treatment by the police and the broader criminal justice system. “Rates of Black offending stem from the negative consequences of centuries of colonialism, slavery and racial oppression … The impact of intergenerational trauma and contemporary social disadvantage, in turn, results in higher rates of Black offending.”

An alternative explanation, the “Higher Rate of Offending Thesis” argues “Black people engage in criminal activity at a higher level than other racial groups and this fact is accurately reflected in official crime statistics … when such factors as the criminal history of individuals and the seriousness of their offences are considered, there’s no evidence disparities in arrest rates are the result of police racism.”

The authors of the OHRC study cited “growing evidence (that) suggests that both explanations have merit … (that) the over-representation of Black people in arrest statistics may be caused both by higher rates of offending and racial bias within the criminal justice system.”

That is, police disproportionately arrest and charge Blacks (for example) because while the vast majority of Blacks are law-abiding, a minority are disproportionately involved in criminal activity and the reason is often due to the adverse social and economic conditions faced by Blacks because of systemic racism, not just in the police force, but in society in general.The problem is that by continuously ignoring the issue of crime rates within the communities with which the police interact, we are no longer looking honestly or completely at all aspects of the issue.

This will inevitably contribute to public skepticism among many about the findings of this latest report by Toronto Police identifying systemic racism in the force.

Source: GOLDSTEIN: Here’s why we no longer talk honestly about police race-based data

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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