Chris MacLean's picture
Toronto Police Service tackles racism "head on"
Posted on Jun 16, 2022

The Toronto Police Service and its Board have waded in – as a leader determined to make a sea change on the important topic of systemic racism and the complexities associated with it.

Passed in June 2017, the Anti-Racism Act, provided a framework for the Ontario government to identify and eliminate systemic racism and advance racial equity in the province. But many discounted the possibility that such a thing existed. In 2019, the Ontario government directed all police services to begin collecting race-based data and incidents of reportable use of force.

That data has been collected and analyzed, and although many already knew what it would reveal, the black and white (no pun intended) results were undeniable and illuminating, to say the least.

In a rare and extremely refreshing example of humility and sincerity while taking unequivocal responsibility and vowing to “do better”, Toronto Police Chief James Ramer told reporters that the findings, based on the detailed analysis of their own race-based data collection (RBDC) related to “Use of Force” and “Strip Search” interactions by Toronto police, are clear.

"The results have confirmed what, for many decades, racialized communities, particularly the black and indigenous communities, have been telling us: that they are disproportionately over-policed. This data demonstrates the unfortunate realities of those experiences," said Chief Ramer in front of media and members of the community.

“As an organization, we have not done enough to ensure that every person in our city receives fair and unbiased policing. And for this, as chief of police, and on behalf of the Service, I am sorry, and I apologize unreservedly.

“We must improve, and we will do better. In 2019 through the Anti-Racism Act, the provincial government directed that all police services in Ontario begin collecting race-based data on instances of reportable use of force. The purpose was to assess whether racial disparities exist in policing, and if so, what can be done to eliminate them.

“In recent years, we have been grappling with addressing and rooting out the complexities of systemic racism, as have other many other institutions. We recognize that when a person has an encounter with the police it can have a profound impact on their life, their mental health, and their trust in policing. 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 the reason we must engage the communities most impacted as we continue along this journey.

“We not only welcome community voices and insights, we recognize that it is essential to identify ways to reduce and eliminate disparities, to measure and evaluate improvement, and continually look for ways to live up to the goal of equitable policing. You deserve better, and our members deserve better.

“Toronto Police Services, and the Toronto Police Services Board embraces this opportunity to illuminate discrimination. The Board's commitment to doing better, and this policy it put in place (with input from senior leaders of this organization), demonstrate how governance and collaboration between the Service and the Board can lead to positive change.

“In implementing the policy, as a first measure, the Service committed to collecting and analyzing data not only in relation to incidences where officers used reportable force in the performance of their duties, but we also committed to do the same with strip searches.

“I recognize that today will be a difficult day for many within the service and within the communities we serve. It is difficult for the TPS because our own analysis of our data from 2020 ," he emphasized, “discloses that there is systemic discrimination in our policing in these areas. That is, there is a disproportionate impact experience by racialized people, in particular those from black communities, when there is a use of force interaction with the TPS.

“For example members of the black community are 2.2 times more likely to experience an enforcement interaction with our officers; they are also 1.6 times more likely to experience force once involved in an enforcement action (a more detailed account of the findings will be made public when the info is presented to TPSB on 22 June 2022).

"As challenging as it is for me, as chief, and for members of our Command and Service to come to terms with what our data tells us, I know that it will be even more difficult for those from Toronto's black communities, who have been telling us for years of their experiences. I want our communities to know – I am listening.

“I also acknowledge the impact of systemic bias 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-trusted by members of indigenous communities; we are not seen as a true partner for community safety that we […] want to be. We know that this is a role that must be earned as part of the journey together.

“We are committed to achieving equitable policing for all of our communities, we cannot do this alone and we must hear from you. As challenging as our data findings are, this day presents an opportunity for us to be, and to do, better. In fact, because our legitimacy is tied to public trust, it tells us that we must do better.

“On behalf of my command, as the leaders of this organization, we take full responsibility. We have often heard from community communities that apologies alone are not sufficient – and we agree.

“It is also an opportunity to identify the systems and procedures that are causing or contributing to the disparate treatment of racialized people, and to address it head on. We will do all we can to fix this. Some of this work is already underway. I can report that we have already created a comprehensive system for the analysis of this data that goes beyond what has been mandated by law – and that lives up to the Board’s requirements of us, and we are further expanding the data sets that will be subject to this analysis.

15 June 2022 – Toronto Chief of Police, James Ramer addresses journalists and community members about the finding of their analysis of data collected on use of force and strip searches.

“Use of force and strip searches are just the start of our work. Over time we will collect our race-based data arising out of other types of interactions, so that we can learn more and take the same approach to those interactions. That is: determine 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 differential treatment by our service.

“As we said in the earliest stages of this journey, we could not fix what we did not measure – I know that some say we could have, and should have, even without the data. I assure you that we are now fully engaged and we now have a way to measure the success of our efforts to eradicate racism.

“I want to recognize the role of those in the black community who have been pressing for change, often with personal sacrifice. I acknowledge that their commitment and persistence has played a key role in getting us to where we are today.

“I can confidently say that the approach we have used reflects the best practices for race data collection. It exemplifies what communities have asked of us, and it adheres to leading practices and 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, test theories on why it's happening, and then test the reforms to measure the difference they are making.

“Our goal is to focus our efforts on the systemic bias attributable to our actions, the actions we can control. We believe this is the most reliable path forward – for us to measure the outcomes of the reforms we have identified together with our community advisory panel – and that this approach will ultimately benefit our communities who are experiencing systemic racism.

“When we commenced this work in 2020, our intention was to get it right, to go beyond what was asked, and to set the standard. I believe that our approach is accomplishing this. I have witnessed the careful deliberate and collaborative systems our race-based team have developed, and I have confidence in this approach.

"Our work has been peer-reviewed and is supported by the opinions of two recognized experts in this field. Doctors Lorne Foster and Les Jacobs. Their independent report reviewing our approach was also released [15 June 2022]. I encourage everyone to read that report which states, in part, that the TPS RBDC strategy reflects the best practices for race data collection, from a human rights perspective, and is a model for other police service in Canada.”

No doubt all police services are going to be watching Toronto. Let's hope they can make us all proud, and that they do become a model for reform that has been sorely needed in pockets of the Police Services around the globe.

Chris MacLean has been the Editor-in-Chief at FrontLine Safety & Security Magazine since 2006.