Toronto police still improperly carding in Jane-Finch area, survey finds
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A majority of officers in Toronto’s Jane and Finch area are ignoring the police board’s revised carding policy, contributing to a climate of police mistrust and perceived abuse, according to a survey that will be presented at a police board meeting Thursday.
“This new policy is intended to ensure that the rights of members of the public are protected during these encounters with police,” wrote the survey’s author, Neil Price, the executive director of LogicalOutcomes, a non-profit consulting organization hired by the board.
“Unfortunately, as the findings of this report show, the current Community Contacts Policy has effectively been ignored by police officers on the ground,” wrote Price, who has a master’s degree in public policy from Ryerson University.
Among other things, the new policy adopted in April requires that police have a valid public safety reason for stopping individuals and that they not prolong encounters to gather information to justify formal questioning.
The Community Assessment of Police Practices survey found that about two-thirds of people, mostly youth and young adults, who reported being stopped and documented — or “carded” — since June said they didn’t believe officers had a valid reason.
And more than 60 per cent said they felt police prolonged the encounters to get more information.
“What I was surprised about is that despite the board’s efforts to address the (carding) issue in a very public way, this community at least was not at all knowledgeable about those efforts,” Price said in an interview with Torstar News Service. “There’s a huge disconnect between what the board is trying to do and what is actually happening on the ground in the community. That needs to be addressed.”
The Toronto Police Service did not respond to a request made Tuesday to comment on the survey, but board chair Alok Mukherjee said the results were “extremely disturbing and problematic.”
“I will be expecting the Board to take the message seriously and to insist that the Service take all measures necessary to gain the public confidence that is missing as evidenced by this survey,” wrote Mukherjee in an email. “We are facing a crisis of confidence, and we better pay heed.”
The survey uncovered widespread dissatisfaction with police, even though two-thirds of those surveyed — 267 people out of 404 — had never been carded.
More than half said they believe police in 31 Division abuse their power, and more than one in three felt that police are dishonest and unfair in their practices.
“This has been going on in 31 Division for a very long time,” said Price. “What you have are multiple generations growing up in the same culture with respect to their interactions with police. It’s clear that despite several decades, we’re still dealing with the fundamental issue of what the community feels is systematic mistreatment.”
Although about one in five said police prevent problems, one-quarter of respondents said they don’t feel safe when police are around, or said they would not call police if they witnessed a crime — a situation that Price wrote is “unacceptable by any measure.”
“What is it like in a situation where you don’t have the confidence to call on police because all of your interactions — or most of them at least — have been negative?” asked Price. “I think that’s what people really need to take from this.”
Price was hired by the police board to determine the impact of the new policy on community contacts, also known as carding. A series of Torstar investigations have shown the controversial practice has disproportionately targeted people with black or brown skin.
The report recommends a number of immediate changes to the police practice, including:
- Stop carding minors immediately and eliminate vague rationales for stops, such as general investigation, suspicious activity or loitering.
- Purge all records prior to April 2014, when the policy was adopted, and retain records for no more than 24 months.
- Publicize disciplinary outcomes for officers who don’t comply with the policy, to enhance accountability.
- Do more community outreach to educate the public about the policy, and ongoing research to get community feedback.
Overall, 137 of the 404 respondents said they have been carded, 62 of them since June 2014.
The survey also showed that nearly 70 per cent of people carded since June felt they could not walk away from the encounter, which they have the right to do if they are not being investigated for a specific crime.
Howard Morton, a lawyer with the Law Union, criticized the board in April for leaving out specific language that would require officers to tell individuals that the carding interaction is voluntary and that they are free to go. Morton has said arbitrary detentions by police contravene Charter rights.
More than half of those who said they had been carded since June said they weren’t told a reason for the stop.
And 86 per cent said they did not receive a receipt with the officer’s name and badge number, a measure that was controversial among officers when the board first implemented it in July 2013 because police felt it would open the door to complaints.
Carding fell 75 per cent that month compared with the same time period a year earlier, because officers basically stopped carding altogether.
Police Chief Bill Blair conducted an internal review of carding. In October 2013, he introduced the Police and Community Engagement Review, or PACER, promising to implement the report’s 31 recommendations to improve carding by the end of 2016. These include diversity training and more legal training for officers, and the production of public reports showing a breakdown of contact cards with demographics.
Blair was required to write new carding procedures earlier this year that were in line with the community contacts policy adopted by the board. Those procedures are not publicly available.
Price’s group held two large community forums to get input into the survey. A community advisory committee of residents and social service providers helped form the questions, which were also vetted by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
The survey was conducted during the summer over a period of two weeks by youth research assistants who canvassed high-traffic areas in neighbourhoods, on TCHC property and online.
Price said what surprised him most about the survey results is that, despite all the efforts by the board and with PACER, the policy is largely being ignored.
“The board has acted, if you think about the community contacts policy and the rights-based framework that’s in there,” said Price. “The question is: Will the police command, will the rank-and-file down to the community officer level, will they move in that direction?”
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