Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders denies racial bias in secret carding report
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Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders was the lead author on a secret internal 2012 analysis of carding data that found no evidence to support “notions or activities of racially biased” policing.
The report, part of a review of how officers interact with citizens, was never made public, and the civilian board that oversees police and chose Saunders as chief did not see it.
Since becoming chief, Saunders has defended carding as a valuable tool that helps reduce and solve violent crimes. Critics continue to question him and demand proof.
Saunders, then a superintendent, took on new roles following the completion of the report. Deputy Chief Peter Sloly assumed control of phase two of the review, and that phase became known as the Police and Community Engagement Review (PACER).
Sloly, according to internal correspondence obtained by Torstar News Service, took issue with the section in Saunders’s report involving a police analysis of “whether or not” police racially profile, based on its own carding data. In an email to Saunders, dated Nov. 13, 2012, Sloly says he sees a need for “significant” revisions. In explaining the context, police in a statement to Torstar said Sloly saw the analysis as “superficial” and requiring “a more thorough consideration for the issue of racial profiling.”
In the email, Sloly suggested losing the entire section.
The service’s analysis of carding — when officers stop, question and document citizens in non-criminal encounters — compared Toronto’s visible minority population with the proportion of contact cards filled out for people who are not white. It concluded that, because the proportion of non-white cards was below the proportion of non-white citizens in Toronto, “it appears that racial or ethnic bias has not been common” in carding.
The report said the “extensive” analyses “do not support “notions or activities of racially biased policing practices.”
The police analysis did not — as Torstar has done in four analyses since 2010 — single out people with black and brown skin who had been carded, and compare those figures to the baseline populations for those groups in Toronto.
The police carding database divides people into four skin colours: white, black, brown and “other.” The police lumped all non-white groups together in determining there was no bias. Torstar has used neighbourhood-level census data and police carding data to show that blacks in Toronto are more likely than whites to be carded in each of the city’s 70-plus patrol zones. To a lesser extent, the same was true for people with “brown” skin.
The Saunders report included a recommendation that the service react to “deliberate misinterpretation” of carding data by Torstar and “misleading, inflammatory” stories. That did not happen.
Saunders, in his first press conference as chief-designate, referred to innocent people who get carded as “collateral damage.” He later admitted it was a poor choice of words, saying the “proper term should be the ‘social cost’ … in which members of the community do not feel that they are being treated with dignity and respect.”
Saunders has said he is open to making sure officers are not conducting “random” stops.
Torstar sought comment from both Saunders and Sloly on the early “community engagement” report and on the context of the internal correspondence.
Instead, the service issued a two-page response crafted by the “PACER Team,” on behalf of Saunders. In it, the police say “we have adamantly opposed the (Star’s) analysis” and methodology since 2002 and “stand by” the criticisms of the Star made in Saunders’s secret 2012 report.
Police again criticized Torstar’s use of census data, and again said contacts with the public “will never be in proportion to census figures.” The response reiterates a longstanding police statement that officers police where violent crime goes on.
“We will use an intelligence-led process because we need our officers to be investigating those people who have chosen to commit crime,” the response reads.
Torstar has posted the entire response and the Saunders report on thestar.com.
The Saunders report and internal correspondence, obtained by Torstar in a yearlong freedom-of-information request, shed light on differing management styles and strategies of two senior officers who would become frontrunners to replace then chief Bill Blair, whose contract expired in April.
Sloly, the lead on the PACER report, was viewed by police watchers as a reformer and was unpopular with the Toronto Police Association. Saunders was viewed as the “cop’s cop,” favourite of the union, and of Mayor John Tory and a remade police board, which chose Saunders over Sloly to be the new chief.
While Sloly criticized the internal analysis, Saunders’s report sought to challenge Torstar, bring in an outside academic to review carding and prepare for community backlash.
“The analysis and recommendations … will undoubtedly impact police and community relations,” notes the report, which goes on to recommend interviews with “external focus groups.”
The Saunders report was part of an operational review ordered by Blair, during the ongoing Torstar investigation into carding.
Other parts of the internal review were made public, Alok Mukherjee, chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, told Torstar. Mukherjee said Blair had at one point agreed to make all of the components public.
“This was not done,” Mukherjee said in an email. He confirmed the Saunders report was not provided to the board.
Saunders, Tory and the board are facing criticism over a watered-down carding policy (set by the board) and procedure (to be implemented by the police brass) — passed while Blair was still chief. It does not require police to inform citizens of their rights and ignores calls to issue a detailed receipt for each stop, measures the previous police board had supported in an April 2014 policy.
The policy never made it into practice. Blair would not write it into police procedures, leading to what Tory described as a stalemate.
Of note, the Saunders-led report endorsed issuing carding receipts, pegging the cost of printing receipts at $7,260 a year.
Between 2008 and late 2013, police filled out 2.1 million contact cards involving more than a million individuals. Personal details are recorded and entered in a database that can be searched from police cruiser computers.
The practice dates back to the 1950s but was ramped up during Blair’s 10 years as chief.
The practice plummeted in mid-2013, when the board ordered police to issue receipts. Under the new policy and procedures, no detailed receipts will be issued, only a business card.
The Saunders-led report also recommended police develop a smartphone app “that may assist in police and community relations by de-mystifying the carding practice and providing greater police accountability to the public.” It was also intended to counter apps that had been developed to monitor police activity that are “being designed contrary to positive police and community intentions.”
The app would contain a “know your rights” section that “informs people about their rights when confronted by police.” Such an app has yet to appear.
Sloly’s 2012 email to Saunders on the report, which carried the subject line of “Urgent Issue!” and was also addressed to senior officer Kimberly Greenwood, flagged a looming deadline and “crazy time lines” on what was “one of the most complex and critical issues facing policing in Toronto and the Western world.”
Sloly lauded the efforts of the team that pulled together the report but criticized some parts. He noted he had “increasing feedback” on the issuing of receipts and that “to my knowledge there has been no corporate communications/issues management/training strategy to properly inform” officers of the order to issue receipts.
“A change like this needs a lot more work to be successful,” wrote Sloly, and should include meetings with the police union and other stakeholders.
“I know you have a lot on your plates and there is a lot in flux but we can’t afford to drop the ball on this or, worse still, for this change to blow up on us . . . ”
The comments would prove prophetic.
Frontline officers and the union viewed the issuing of receipts as an invitation for public complaints. Amid increasing criticism of carding in general, Blair this year suspended it altogether.
Carding was rebranded in April under a new board policy and a hastily written police procedure. Blair walked out of his final police board meeting to cries of “shame” from the public gallery, which appeared to be directed at both him and the board, which includes Tory.
The new procedure is not yet in place and, for now, carding remains suspended. The police service and the board will revisit it in the fall.
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