Race study distorts 'the truth'

By Tamsin McMahon
Local News - Wednesday, June 08, 2005 @ 07:00

Kingston’s police union, backed by two academics, slammed its department over the controversial racial data project yesterday, saying it hadn’t solved debate over racial profiling and had ignored officers’ concerns.

During a press conference at the Holiday Inn, Kingston Police Association President Sean Bambrick said officers want to improve relations with visible minorities in the city and address perceptions that police are biased.

“We do not need this program to address these issues,” he said. “The people of Kingston need to know the truth that they have been and will continue to be treated fairly by their police force regardless of the colour of their skin.”

Officers, who had quietly opposed the project, issued their first official statement since preliminary results of the department’s study on biased policing were released two weeks ago showing blacks were three times more likely to be stopped by police than whites.

The police union brought in Ron Melchers, a criminologist from the University of Ottawa, to critique the study.

Melchers said the study had critical flaws, including using census data that didn’t give an accurate picture of the population that would likely be stopped by police.

The number of blacks tracked in the study was too small to be useful in drawing any conclusions and should never have been analysed in the first place, he said.

“I, frankly, would never think of conducting any statistical analysis here,” Melchers said.

Studies such as the one used by Kingston Police, which involved officers writing down the race of everyone stopped by police for a year on “contact cards,” can never prove or disprove racial profiling, he said.

He warned that the study’s results shouldn’t be used to set department policy.

Marie Kuriychuk is the chief psychologist at Joyceville Institution. Her expertise is with high-risk and violent sex offenders.

She criticized the study for not being peer-reviewed before it was released to the public.

“I don’t think anybody benefits from bad science,” she said.

Bambrick said he’d forwarded concerns about the study before it was released to Chief Bill Closs, asking that the association be given an early look at the raw data and requesting that the study be peer-reviewed before it was publicly discussed.

Both requests were turned down, he said.

When early results from the study were released two weeks ago, “both the association’s concerns of academic responsibility were thrown out the window,” he said.

“And as a result the City of Kingston police force were unfairly maligned in the national media.”

Bambrick also said that 74 per cent of traffic stops were entered into the police computer system instead of on contact cards and therefore weren’t a part of the study, which could skew the results.

But in an interview, the University of Toronto criminologist hired to conduct the study, Scot Wortley, said the data entered into the computer system would be analysed and included in his final report, due out in July.

Many of the stops were recorded both on contact cards and on the computer system and Wortley said he still has to go through each one by hand to weed out the duplicates.

But, he said, it’s not likely to change the findings that blacks are three times more likely to be stopped by police than whites.

Many of the issues Melchers raised were either addressed in the study or will be part of the final report, expected in July, Wortley said.

He disagreed with Melchers that the black community in Kingston captured in the report was too small to be studied.

“I think he set a dangerous precedent there,” Wortley said. “He’s basically saying we cannot study racism against people who live in small towns where the majority of people are white.”

Chief Bill Closs dismissed the criticism that the numbers in the report were too small to be studied, saying it didn’t change his opinion that the study was valuable.

“The number doesn’t work for me because … this was all about the individual person being checked on the street,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter to me whether I have one black person in the community, 200 or 2,000. Whatever we did, we did for our own individual citizens in the community.”

George Stoparczyk, member of the police services board and a city councillor, said he was disappointed by the presentation, which he hoped would have given him a better picture of what’s happening between police and citizens in Kingston.

“I had hoped to hear a different interpretation from the results of the study, but I didn’t get that,” Stoparczyk said.

“All I heard is that this study is faulty and too small a sample and that it should not be repeated anywhere else.”

If the police department decides to continue collecting data, Bambrick said it will be up to police officers to decide whether to go along, as they did with the pilot project.

But he said he hoped the union could sit down with the department brass and come up with alternatives.

“I don’t think it’s a benefit to anybody to continue collecting statistics on race,” he said.

At least one senior officer said he doesn’t think the project should continue.

“I think it’s time, personally, to pass the torch and have somebody else take up the cause should they feel it necessary,” said Deputy Chief Bob Napier.

He said it remains to be seen if collecting racial statistics was useful for the police department, but he didn’t believe the study was proof of racial profiling or wrongdoing on the part of officers.

The police department isn’t planning on changing any policies or implementing any specialized sensitivity or race relations training as a result, Napier said.

“The bottom line is we believe our officers did do their jobs properly and we don’t believe they did anything wrong,” he said.

The study results amounted to officers stopping one black person each during the year, he said. “I certainly don’t feel that’s problematic or any kind of profiling issue.”

Far from the debate, members of Kingston’s visible minority community were singing the praises of Chief Bill Closs at a meeting of the Kingston Area Race Relations Association.

Several young black men walked up to Closs and shook his hand.

But while they praised the police department for being progressive, some said police shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that visible minorities are being treated differently by officers.

“These are not your children, you did not bring them into the world, you cannot make them pure,” Icah Bryant told Closs during the meeting at the downtown public library.

“But there are officers there that need to be attended to.”

Bryant said black police officers in the city are failing their community by not educating their white counterparts.

“You’re not involving yourself enough with the black community to help your white officers under stand your black fellow in the community,”



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