Officers ‘wounded’ by publicity given to racial profiling study

By Tamsin McMahon
Local News - Tuesday, May 31, 2005 @ 07:00

Kingston Police Chief Bill Closs said he’s worried that his officers might be taunted in the community since the release of the department’s racial data collection project.

“The first thing I’m concerned about is any negative contact that my officers might be getting on the street,” he said. “So we’re watching that very closely.”

Closs said he hasn’t heard of any community backlash against police since the department released its controversial project Thursday, showing that blacks were three times more likely to be stopped than whites.

Officer morale has taken a hit since the projects results were released, Closs said, in part because of what he called unbalanced media coverage that insinuated that officers were racist.

“They’re hurting. I’d have to say they’re wounded,” he said. “I don’t believe for a moment that I have racist officers. I do not have any racist police officers. I have good, professional police officers, or they never would have participated in this project in the first place.

“But when it comes out that there are disparities in some of their stops, in some of those contact cards, it’s difficult. The unfortunate part and the worst thing is they’re reading what’s in the media and, frankly, if the media doesn’t write well-balanced stories with well-balanced headlines, it kills us, it absolutely kills us.

Closs spoke from the road, as he drove to Aylmer to present the results of the Kingston project today to more than 100 police officials from across the province at the Ontario Police College.

Police departments in Toronto, Halton Region, Ottawa and Hamilton, along with OPP, all planed to send senior officers to the conference.

Kingston Police is bringing a contingent including Closs, Deputy Chief Bob Napier, crime analyst Ray Lonsdale, training officer Sgt. Jody Armstrong, diversity co-ordinator Sgt. Helene Corcoran, professional standards officer Staff Sgt. Antje McNeely, members of the Kingston Police Association and police services board chair Carol Allison-Burra.

“The idea is to present, at least from our perspective, a fairly balanced viewpoint and basically lay it out that this is what happened to us, this is what we’ve found out and maybe others can learn from it,” Napier said.

Kingston became the first police department in Canada to collect and analyse racial statistics after banning racial profiling two years ago.

Since then, Toronto Police have been watching Kingston’s experience with a view to undertaking a similar project.

Groups representing visible minorities have called on police departments across the country to follow Kingston’s lead.

Closs said he’s never received more feedback on any issue than he has on the racial data collection project.

All of the feedback, including calls and e-mails from the community and from as far away as Toronto, Ottawa and London, has been positive, he said.

“In my office we have not received one single negative comment,” he said.

Most people have called to congratulate police officers for participating in the project despite initially objecting to it. Others have said that despite results that appear to support allegations of racial profiling, they still support Kingston Police, Closs said.

“We’re getting a groundswell of people that are coming forward and saying there might be disparities in whatever you’re doing out there, but we think you’re good police officers, you’re not racist,” he said.

Police officers have been hearing a different story from their friends at other departments, who have called to crack jokes, Closs said. He didn’t want to elaborate on what kind of comments officers had received.

“This is just the police culture we’re talking about,” he said. “But they’re getting some good-natured razzing. Unfortunately, right now everybody is so sensitive, I just wish this would be 100 per cent upbeat and keep the jokes out of it.”

When Kingston first announced its data collection project, feedback from other police officials ranged from “don’t go there” to “good luck,”said Deputy Chief Napier, a board member of the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police.

Now that the study results are out, “most of the comments I’ve heard have been ‘better you than us’ and ‘we’re glad it’s not us,’ ” he said. “But that’s the way it goes.”

Yesterday the president of Union of Ontario Indians praised the Kingston police study for acknowledging that officers are more likely to stop aboriginals.

But Anishinabek Nation Grand Council Chief John Beaucage said the study was long overdue.

“It validates the concerns the First Nation community has been raising for years,” he said in a news release.

The Kingston study showed that aboriginals were 1.4 times more likely to be stopped than whites.

However, University of Toronto criminologist Scot Wortley, who was brought in to analyse the Kingston results, said a small group of people who’d been stopped many times skewed the statistics and that aboriginals were being stopped less than their numbers in the community suggested.