Racial profiling is an everyday lived reality that the Toronto Police Service (TPS) cannot deny, Deputy Chief Keith Forde told delegates at a one-day conference last week that examined the issue of racially-biased policing.
“Communities are not fabricating racial profiling,” Forde said. “Police services need to be cognizant and aware of the impact of this. Over-policing of certain communities, reinforcing negative stereotypes, lack of confidence in police and combative relationships between the police and certain communities serve to erode the public’s trust.
“Racial profiling is a sub-conscious decision. Therefore, the police need to unpack their own stereotypical thinking. They need to become more conscious of their own biases and acknowledge that we all hold biases.
“This is especially important for police officers that have such an important role in society and have so much power with critical consequences.
“It is critical for those in senior management and the leaders of the police union to stop being so defensive and in such denial about racial profiling. It is time for them to support constructive and meaningful policies and procedures to address the issue.”
A series of articles published in the Toronto Star in 2002 based on statistics collected by the police revealed that Toronto cops treated Blacks, in certain circumstances, more harshly than Whites.
The Toronto Police Service commissioned its own report that called the newspaper’s methodology and interpretations “junk science”, although that report too attracted methodological criticism.
In October 2003, Forde and three other senior Black officers along with 38 Black police personnel met on company time – at the request of then chief Julian Fantino — to engage in a frank discussion about what it was 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.
In August 2005, Association of Black Law Enforcers (ABLE) founding member and retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer, Lynell Nolan, substantiated allegations that some law enforcement members engage in racial profiling. He also admitted he racially profiled young Black men early in his law enforcement career and suggested that many Black officers engaged in the illegal practice.
“If you saw six White guys standing at a corner, you simply drove by assuming they were having fun,” Nolan told a town hall meeting convened to discuss racial profiling and differential treatment of minorities. “If you saw three Black guys standing on the corner, you would drive by and then come back again to see what they were doing. As police officers, I think we are all guilty of racial profiling at some time in our career, but many people are afraid to openly come out and admit it. Being part of a White establishment, I acted as they did in the sense that you treated Blacks differently.”
He said he took a principled stand to speak out against racial profiling and become an advocate for visible minorities within the RCMP after he realized that there was racism within the national police service and he was denied promotions because of his skin colour.
Nolan – the author of Being Black in Scarlet that provides an inside look at the inner workings of the RCMP and the struggles encountered by visible minorities who challenge perceived racial practices and policies – took early retirement in January 1998 and returned to his native St. Kitts & Nevis where he’s the Director of Safety and Security at the Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine.
When William “Bill’ Blair was appointed TPS Chief four years ago, he acknowledged that racial profiling existed and vowed to change the systems that were complicit in fostering and maintaining inequalities.
As a result, the TPS created a Diversity Management Unit 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 have seen that sound policies give direction to members of the service,” said Forde. “Improved training helps members learn and better understand the issues, improved supervision leads to members who better reflect our core values, community involvement confirms and validates that we are on the right path towards improving external relations and perceptions across the city and accountability creates equity through transparency.
“For years, many communities have asked us to be more inclusive of their needs, to better reflect the city’s demographics, to be more invested with all of the communities in Toronto and to have the courage to deal with the issue of racial profiling in an honest and dignified way. And we have listened. Now we have a better and more positive relationship and understanding with Toronto’s diverse communities which helps us to better relate and work together.”
Tropicana Community Service Organization president, Gervan Fearon, who spoke at the conference, said he believed that the TPS community policing and engagement initiatives have supported a growing partnership between community organizations, government, individuals and police in forging vibrant and strong communities in the Greater Toronto Area.
“It must therefore be noted that complaints against police and, specifically, complaints of racial profiling can quickly undermine the goodwill earned by the tremendous progress and effort of the Toronto Police Service,” added Fearon, who is also a Dean and Associate Professor in the Department of Economics at Ryerson University.