Key stakeholders from the public and private sector, community organizations and activists participated in the second annual Toronto Police Service (TPS) community forum to examine the controversial issue of racial profiling.
The event, hosted by the organization’s Diversity Management Unit (DMU), took place last Saturday at the police college.
“We are not here to discuss whether or not racial profiling in policing exists because bias exists in every person in this room here today,” deputy chief Peter Sloly said in his keynote presentation. “Bias is part of human nature and we hire from the human race.
“We are here to ask for and hopefully receive your help to make things better. This is a process of continuous improvement. We will never completely eliminate bias in policing although that’s our goal. We must continue to work towards a more equitable, inclusive and bias-free police service.”
When William Blair was appointed Chief five years ago, one of the first things he did was admit that racial profiling exists in the organization and he vowed to change the systems that were complicit in fostering and maintaining inequalities.
As a result, the TPS created the DMU which has been mandated to ensure that the service provides members with a healthy, respectful, inclusive and equitable work environment that is free of discrimination. The organization also launched an employee systems review to assess the fairness of its human resources process, internal support networks to act as an employee resource, a recruiting coalition, an ambassador program and a new hiring strategy.
In addition, the TPS initiated collaborations with the communities it serves through consultative and liaison committees.
“We just can’t tell our police officers to go out there and be bias-free,” said Sloly. We can’t tell them to go out and deliver equitable policing or mobilize partnerships until we did something constructively, structurally and culturally inside the organization.
“We have to change who we are, we have to change the way we are structured, we have to change the way we hire, promote, transfer and deploy. That work is still ongoing and I can tell you it’s a hell of a lot of heavy lifting that has happened over the past five years. The organization has literally being transformed internally.”
Eight years ago, the Toronto Star ran a series of investigative articles that concluded that Toronto police unfairly target Blacks.
In October 2003, Sloly and three senior Black officers – staff inspector David McLeod, now retired deputy chief Keith Forde and staff inspector Karl Davis – along with other Black police personnel met on company time, at the request of then chief Julian Fantino, to engage in a frank discussion about what it’s like to be a Black member of a force facing allegations of racial profiling.
Though it was agreed that the discussions would remain an internal matter, it emerged that the Black officers, some of whom claim they were subjected to racism on the job, admitted there was racial profiling in the force.
“I am intimately familiar with the topic of racial profiling as an officer and deputy chief of Toronto Police, as a Jamaican immigrant and as a Canadian citizen and a Black man,” said Sloly. “I am also intimately familiar with other assiduous forms of bias that a person who is married to a Muslim woman (his wife is Turkish) and as a person raising a child of mixed race and faith.
“I understand this is just not a topic about Black and White. It’s a topic that’s affecting every single one of us. Racial profiling exists not because of mainstream media, newspaper stories, statistical spreadsheet analyses, court decisions or political party positions. We know it exists because our brothers, kids, families, friends – our very own and my very own personal and professional experiences – tell us that it exists…We know racial profiling exists because of meetings like this today where the issue has been explicitly raised.”
TPS board chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee acknowledged that racially biased policing poses a serious threat to the organization that’s committed to forging relationships based on trust with the communities it serves.
“All of us, whether involved in police governance or front-line delivery, are challenged to learn about racially biased policing and what we can do, collectively and individually, to eliminate it from our systems and practices,” he said.
Deputy Chief Mike Federico and DMU manager Andre Goh also addressed the delegates.
Goh said he’s heartened when individuals and groups express an interest in finding ways to enhance policing in Toronto.
“As a human rights and diversity practitioner, I have come to believe that when looking at issues involving allegations of racism and racial profiling, it is important to understand that there are many perceptions and emotions involved,” Goh said.