Kingston study proves racial bias
Police chief there apologizes to blacks, aboriginals
Toronto expected to follow with own study of practices

 

CATHERINE PORTER
CITY HALL BUREAU

May 27, 2005. 06:51 AM

Kingston, Ont.A tearful Police Chief Bill Closs apologized yesterday to black people in Kingston after being confronted with proof they are stopped by officers three times more often than whites.

 

Then Closs challenged police chiefs across Canada to monitor their forces for racial profiling.

 

"It's time the police chiefs look at themselves in the mirror and said to themselves, `What is going on in my organization?'" he said. "My officers took the risk. They knew there'd be consequences and they demonstrated integrity."

 

Toronto Police Services Board chair Pam McConnell pledged that a similar "made-in-Toronto" version of the monitoring would be put in the hands of the city's police force within the next eight months.

 

She called the results "very disturbing" but not unexpected.

 

"This is a road map for the future," said McConnell, in Kingston with fellow board member Alok Mukherjee to witness the data analysis first-hand.

 

"For me, this affirmed what we all know. It begs the question of us, what will we do about this?"

 

The Kingston force was the first in the country to ban racial profiling and keep tabs on the race of people stopped by officers over the course of a year, from Oct. 1, 2003 to Sept. 30, 2004.

 

Yesterday the analysis of that data was released, revealing great disparities:

 

Blacks were stopped by police about three times as often as whites.

 

More than 40 per cent of black males between the ages of 15 and 24 were stopped during the year, compared to 11 per cent of their white counterparts.

 

About 10 per cent of the stops involving a black person resulted in an arrest or charge, compared to 6 per cent of the stops involving whites.

 

"That is significantly higher. It's almost a 60 to 70 per cent higher arrest rate," said University of Toronto criminology professor Scot Wortley, who analyzed the data for the force as an independent outsider.

 

Toronto Police Association president Dave Wilson said he was disturbed that McConnell would say that the Kingston study confirms "what we all know" but said the association is open to the idea of a study.

 

"Our position has always been that we profile behaviour," he said in a phone interview last night. "We don't profile race. So let's design a study that answers the question why."

 

Wilson said policing issues in Toronto and Kingston are different. "Obviously this would impact our front-line officers," he said. "In order for Toronto to conduct a meaningful study, it has to address the question of why people were stopped."

 

Toronto officers will be able to see the presentation next Tuesday, at a forum in Toronto, hosted in part by the Ontario Police College and the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.

 

Applauding Closs for his heartfelt apology and courage, Toronto black activist Margaret Parsons urged Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair to "take a page from the Kingston police service's book and implement such a study."

 

"It doesn't decrease police morale. It improves relations with the African Canadian and aboriginal communities, and from here we can make change," said Parsons, executive director of the African Canadian Legal Clinic.

 

Blair has said he thinks racial profiling exists on the Toronto force and declared improving relationships with the city's many diverse communities was his top priority.

 

But hearing the results of the Kingston project from the Toronto Star yesterday, Blair said he has reservations about the methodology involved in collecting race-based statistics.

 

"I'm absolutely committed to addressing the issue of bias and racial bias in policing. We are not averse to getting as much information as we can," he said from Toronto yesterday. "I just want it done right."

 

There are also questions about whether the year-long project conducted by Kingston's 177 police officers in a city of 114,000 people could be expanded to Toronto, population 2.5 million, with a police force of 5,260.

 

In 2001, the number of black residents in Kingston numbered 685 less than 1 per cent of the city's predominantly white population. Comparatively, according to the 2001 census, Toronto has 204,000 black residents, accounting for 8.3 per cent of the population.

 

But Wortley said the data-collecting system could be implemented in Toronto, in a modified form, to reflect the realities of policing in a large city.

 

"If you don't do it, the black community will say, `Why not? What have you got to hide?'" he said after his 90-minute presentation. "By not doing it, Toronto is putting itself in a position where it seems they are hiding something. If you are serious about improving police relations with minority groups, you're going to have to seriously consider implementing a monitoring program."

 

Closs also included the city's aboriginals in his apology.

 

"I believe racial profiling exists. I believe biased policing exists because we're all humans," the chief said, vowing to address the problem within the force.

 

"I find no fault in individual police officers. I find fault in the organization and I'm responsible for that organization."

 

The chief launched the project two years ago, in bid to stamp out public accusations that the force was racist. The best way of moving forward, he said, was collecting statistics to show whether there was a problem.

 

The move was prompted by the dramatic arrest of three innocent teenagers two of them black by police officers on a winter night in 2001. The teens were riding in a black Mercedes, looking for a garbage can so they could toss out their Chinese food takeout bags.

 

Following a panicked 911 call, officers misidentified the youths one of whom was only 12 as gangsters involved in a much-earlier assault.

 

Two years later, one of those same youths was again stopped by officers at gunpoint. Then 19, Mark Wallen had been walking home with a friend from basketball practice when an officer ordered him to stop and take his hands out of his pockets. When Wallen asked why, the officer pulled out his gun.

 

A disciplinary panel found the officers "acted in good faith."

 

In Toronto, blacks have often accused officers of treating them differently than whites. That was confirmed in an award-winning Star series that examined police arrests in Toronto from 1996 to 2002.

 

In particular, blacks charged with simple drug possession were taken to a police station more often than whites facing the same charge, the analysis found. And once at the station, black suspects were held overnight for a bail hearing at twice the rate of whites.

 

The data also showed a disproportionate number of black motorists were ticketed for offences that routinely would come to light following a traffic stop.

 

A $2.7 billion class-action lawsuit brought by the Toronto Police Association against the Star was eventually dismissed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

 

Racial profiling, or racially biased policing, has been widely criticized by Wortley and other academics as an ineffective method of policing that involves the association whether conscious or not of certain types of crime with skin colour, which leads to a disproportionate number of stops and the stigmatization of communities.

 

With files from Jim Rankin

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