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Black people more than twice as likely to have interactions with officers: Toronto Police report

Black people 2.2 times more likely to have interactions with police officers: Toronto Police Report

Black, Indigenous, and racialized people are over-represented in both use-of-force incidents as well as in strip searches, according to findings released today from the Toronto Police Service (TPS) Race-Based Data Collection (RBDC) Strategy—a strategy aimed at assessing racial disparities in policing.

The findings are based on analysis of data collected in 2020 involving officers’ perceptions of an individual’s race in use-of-force and strip searches; the data involved more than 86,500 interactions that Toronto police officers had with the public.

The report also found that, regarding use-of-force, Black people were 2.2 times more likely to have an interaction with police officers and are 1.6 times more likely to have force used on them during the interaction. Black, East/Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern and Latino people were overrepresented in reported use-of-force incidents compared to their presence in enforcement action population. Approximately 39% of people Toronto police used force against in 2020 were Black, but only 24% of people Toronto police interacted with were Black, so Black people were over-represented in enforcement actions by police in 2020 by about 220%.

Regarding the 371 times where officers pointed handguns or rifles at people in 2020, the report shows that Black people were 230% more likely than white people to have firearms pointed where no weapons were perceived by an officer to be on their person.

White people were 40% more likely to have less-lethal force used against them by police, i.e., via physical contact, a bean-bag shotgun, taser, or baton, even when they were thought to be in possession of weapons.

As for strip searches—although strip search rates dropped significantly following changes to the Search of Persons policy in October 2020, there were differences by race in strip search rates with Black, Indigenous, and White people over-represented relative to their presence in arrests.

Toronto Police Chief James Ramer said that the results have confirmed what, for many decades, racialized communities “particularly the Black and Indigenous communities” have been telling the police—that they are disproportionately over-policed.

“This data demonstrates the unfortunate realities of those experiences. As an organization, we have not done enough to ensure that every person in our city receives fair and unbiased policing,” Ramer said in a statement on Wednesday.  “For this, as Chief of Police, and on behalf of the Service, I am sorry and I apologize unreservedly. The release of this data will cause pain for many.  Your concerns have deep roots that go beyond the release of today’s report. We must improve; we will do better,”

Ramer added that, as difficult as these findings are, the police will recognize that this is some of the most important work they have ever done.

“Getting to this point with our data has been challenging, but we are committed to using the 2020 findings as a baseline to build upon actions that have already begun and will continue in the years ahead,” Ramer said. “We will continue to listen, engage and act, all with the goal of propelling us forward in our ultimate goal of providing fair and equitable policing to all.”

Many are outraged at the data, with some saying that an apology isn’t enough.

Beverly Bain is from No Pride in Policing—a coalition of queer and trans people formed in support of Black Lives Matter Toronto. During Wednesday’s news conference, Bain called Ramer’s apology a “public relations stunt.

“Chief Ramer, we do not accept your apology,” she said, adding that this is not about saving our lives.

“What we have asked for you to do is stop. To stop brutalizing us. To stop killing us.”

Similar responses are found across social media:

In a statement released by the Toronto Police Association, Meaghan Gray, Chief Communications Officer, noted that the data shows that more than 90% of all use-of-force incidents were the result of a reactive policing encounter, meaning officers responded to a call for service, with “more than half being violent calls for service.”

“While certain benchmarks may have been applied, the data does not reflect the totality of each engagement because there is no context given to the circumstance or individual officers were faced with,” Gray noted.

“Without digging deeper into this data, it’s very difficult to determine the best path forward,” she said, adding that the Toronto Police Association condemns any form of racism, in any aspect of policing, and so do their members. “Our membership is diverse, reflective of the communities we serve, and do their best during very challenging, and often dangerous, situations. They are open to changes that will make their jobs safer and result in fair and equitable interactions with our communities.”

She said that its members will continue to participate in training, including de-escalation training that reduces the requirements to use force, to training that focuses on individual biases.

“But more needs to be done and we are asking the Service to fast-track various technology-based initiatives that will result in more thorough data collection. Interactions between the police and the community are complex, based on multiple factors, and more data is clearly needed to gain a fulsome understanding of the context in which police operate daily.”

All of the findings are available on the Race-Based Data Collection webpage at TPS.ca.