The newly released findings on race-based data from the Toronto Police Service provide another grim reminder of the realities of law enforcement in Canada. The 119-page document, entitled Racial and identity-based data collection strategy concept: use of violence and strip searches in 2020investigates 7,114 strip searches and 949 incidents involving the use of force.
The report finds that black, indigenous and racialized people are over-represented in “enforcement actions” by the police. For example, although black people made up 10 percent of Toronto’s population, they made up 22.6 percent of law enforcement actions such as arrests, tickets, and warnings.
There is an exorbitant impact of the use of force on various minority groups – Black, Latino, East / Southeast Asian and Middle Eastern people are allegedly overrepresented by factors of 1.6 times, 1.5 times, 1, respectively. 2 times and 1.2 times. Minorities were also more likely to have weapons drawn against them by the police.
These findings are well known, yet deeply troubling. There have been years of community consultations, “reforms”, cultural sensitivity, anti-bias education and diversity and inclusivity policies and programs. But the problem of police using disproportionate violence has refused to go away.
These findings are not organizational accidents – they reflect conscious and unconscious decisions to use violence when dealing with certain sectors of the population.
Insults and apologies
James Ramer, the interim Toronto police chief, apologized on June 15: “As an organization, we have not done enough to ensure that every person in our city receives fair and impartial policing. … As police chief and on behalf of the police, I’m sorry and I apologize unconditionally. ”
However, activists and Toronto minority leaders are understandably frustrated. Beverly Bain, of the No Pride in Policing Coalition, refused to accept the chief’s apology: “What we have asked you to do is to stop. To stop brutalizing us. To stop killing us. ” Bain called Ramer’s apology a “public relations ploy,” which she considered “insulting” to those affected.
Its apology and refusal demonstrates the growing gap between the police and the communities they have promised to protect. It is not necessary for them to apologize if they are going to continue to do the exact thing. Apologizing becomes an empty, performative act designed to save face and come through a news conference with limited damage.
My research team and I began studying the police’s use of force in the late 2000s, particularly the use of lead energy weapons (CEWs) such as Tasers. We found that men belonging to ethnic minority groups with a recent immigration history, who suffered from mental health problems or had a history of drug abuse were overrepresented among those who died during or shortly after CEWs were used.
In 2021, I served as the Special Adviser to the Government of Alberta on the revision of the Police Act. I saw firsthand the frustrations of underserved and overpolished populations during public engagement sessions. Many citizens were tired of being abused by those who were paid to protect them.
Bain’s refusal to accept the principal’s apology also underscores the lack of accountability and responsibility in the report. Who are the officers responsible for these incidents? What disciplinary action did they face? Are the annual deaths, injuries, and psychological damage an acceptable price that some segments of society must prepare to bear continually? Is there no alternative to this approach to law enforcement?
It’s one thing to acknowledge that the police service has a problem, it’s another thing to ensure accountability to alleviate offenders. Without it, the next report will be identical to the current one. For targeted communities, this means more traumatized victims, families and circles of friends.
The American sociologist Harvey Sacks argued that, as occupational specialists, the police use the “incongruence procedure”. This means they focus on an assessment of who is in place or out of place.
Thus, being “noticeable” or “visible” is considered potentially deviant and worthy of attention. This has led to the mere presence of black or indigenous people being treated as a problem in itself, even when they are merely driving, barbecuing or shopping, among other things.
Being young is no panacea.
In Canada, children under the age of seven were handcuffed and arrested for throwing tantrums at school. As recently as November last year, a Kitchener school called police on a four-year-old Black girl.
In addition to the police-citizen interactions that contribute to these statistics, the persistence of this issue is a manifestation of generations of limited recruitment exercises and an organizational and professional culture of impunity.
These issues are the subject of several sociological studies. Research shows that officers who use excessive force make up less than 10 percent of uniformed police service personnel, and yet the protectionist circle around incorrigible officers is a key issue that is not addressed.
Officer misconduct seriously damages the efforts of officers who do their job fairly and conscientiously.
When incidents of police misconduct are brought to light, officers are defended or placed on paid leave. The role of police unions, employment contracts, the famed wall of silence and a hyper-masculine organizational context are well documented.
From reports to recommendations
The Toronto Police Department is a leader in producing reports and commissions of inquiry into misconduct by officers. Judge Frank Iacobucci, for example, in 2014 submitted a report with 84 recommendations following the murder of Sammy Yatim on a tram by a police officer.
The recommendations include prioritizing the appointment of people with university degrees from disciplines such as nursing and social work. Research shows that officers who rely too much on violence and tend to deploy excessive force usually have a grade 12 level training or less.
This is common in numerous police jurisdictions. Such officers also tend to be masculine. There is a need to break down the high school diploma and old boys network core of the police, and hire more women, minorities and people with university degrees.
In addition to leadership committed to change and the elimination of unreasonable contract terms that make liability unlikely, these steps have the potential to improve the organizational culture of police forces.
The use of violence report also shows that changes in the law do have an impact. The 2017 Ontario Anti-Racism Act made the collection and release of the report possible. While this is no consolation to those affected, it is a central part of the sober reality regarding police use of force.
The public deserves better, given the share of the common purse spent on policing.