Police union questions criminologist's impartiality

By Tamsin McMahon
Local News - Friday, October 22, 2004 @ 07:00

Kingston’s police officers have been told to get in line with everyone else who wants a peek at the results of the police department’s recently completed program to collect information on the race of everyone they stop.

The Kingston Police Association, which represents more than 200 uniformed officers, tabled a letter at yesterday’s police services board meeting asking for access to the raw numbers from the year-long data collection pilot project that wrapped up Oct. 1.

The union said it had concerns about University of Toronto criminologist Scott Wortley, who was picked to crunch the numbers, and wanted to do its own, independent analysis.

In his Oct. 14 letter, association president Sean Bambrick said he didn’t feel Wortley could be unbiased, since the department consulted him when it was first setting up the data collection project last year.

“I have also learned that Mr. Wortley said that police do practice racial profiling in a Toronto Star series on the same topic,” Bambrick wrote. “I am, of course, not suggesting any overt partiality on behalf of Mr. Wortley, but for obvious reasons this creates concerns for the Association.”

Wortley was not quoted in the Toronto Star’s 2002 series Race and Crime, which examined whether Toronto police engaged in racial profiling.

The union hadn’t yet picked the person they want to crunch the numbers, but Bambrick said it might look to the Police Association of Ontario for advice.

Officers had voted against the project when it was started last year.

They worried that having to fill out a detailed sheet, called a contact card, on the race and ethnicity of everyone they stop would cause officers to second-guess themselves.

The police department already has a complaints process to deal with allegations of racial profiling, the union contended.

In his letter to the board, Bambrick said officers are thrilled to see the end of a project that has had a negative impact on police in the community.

“Many of my members believe this program has attacked our credibility and integrity, creating a poor perception of our professionalism to the public and other police agencies,” he wrote.

The board responded by saying the association would have to wait until the police department publicly releases its own analysis of the data in late February or early March.

Mayor Harvey Rosen, a board member, said he was worried that if the union got the raw data early, it could come out with its own take on the numbers before the department had a chance to weigh in.

“It could be a difficult issue to deal with,” he said.

“It’s our process, we should have control over it.”