By ARNOLD A. AUGUSTE, Publisher/Senior Editor
The Toronto Police Service is undergoing a wide-ranging review with a report scheduled to be placed before Chief Bill Blair in early August. This project, which is headed by Deputy Chief Peter Sloly, is reviewing all departments, services, policies and procedures of the TPS in an effort to build on the improvements that have been taking place over the past few years.
In a wide-ranging interview at Share last Friday, Sloly responded to some of the questions we have been asking over the past few weeks, especially concerning the issue of ‘carding’, a term, by the way, which Sloly rejected as a proper descriptor of the policy used by the police.
And, for good reason. The word has been associated with very despicable policies on the part of others, for example, South Africa during apartheid, and he wished to distance the TPS from such association. He also wanted to talk about all the advances the TPS has made, especially during the tenure of Chief Blair.
And they are many. Since Blair took over the leadership of the Service, there has been an emphasis on hiring more women and minorities. He has also made a point of advancing minorities up the chain of command including the appointment of three Black deputy chiefs and a number of other senior officers.
I have been concerned for a long time now that officers hired on to the Service came from small towns outside of the Greater Toronto Area and were not exposed to the kind of diversity found here in the local population. For most of them, the first time they would have come across a Black person was on the job during an investigation. This would – or could – have skewed their opinion of Blacks and other minorities.
Sloly, however, said that there is now an emphasis on – or greater effort being made to – hire in the local community. That is important. Hiring officers who would have grown up in the community and experienced the diversity of the city first hand, should go a long way towards enhancing the sensitivity the TPS needs in dealing with our diverse population.
So, yes, the TPS has made great strides and seemed poised to go even further. However, one place it doesn’t seem ready to yield on is this policy we refer to as ‘carding’.
According to Sloly, the policy was put in place to help the police identify troublemakers and people who could be involved in criminal activity and, most important, not just Black people, but any and every person with whom police officers come into contact.
The problem with this policy, though, is that too much is left to the individual officer’s discretion. Yes, they have guidelines, but choosing to stop or not stop someone could be just a matter of personal bias (or, as some say, racism) and seems, from the statistics, that this could be the case more often than not.
Sloly said an individual should only be stopped if an officer sincerely believes he or she might be involved in criminal activity or might be someone who has information to assist in the investigation of a criminal offence and that stop should be made in adherence to certain established criteria. He insists that officers are not above the law and will be investigated if it comes to the attention of the TPS that they have behaved improperly and urges individuals who feel they have been unfairly treated by the police to report it.
But, wouldn’t it be easier to just scrap the policy altogether? Remember, police officers already have their notepads with which to record important information on suspects.
There is another thing. Police officers have to present their contact forms at the end of shift and these forms help senior officers judge how well the cops on the streets are doing their jobs. While no one will admit there are quotas (just as everyone denies there are quotas for parking tickets), a cop consistently handing in fewer (or much fewer) forms than the squad’s average might draw the attention of his superiors. And not in a good way.
So, many of the contacts, where people are stopped seemingly for no apparently obvious reason, could be the result of an officer wanting to meet the squad’s average. (I almost said ‘fill his quota.’)
By the way, these stop-and-document interactions are a very big part of policing. Some 360,000 of these reports/forms/cards are filed each year.
Sloly agreed these are too many and while he doesn’t believe the practice should be stopped completely, as he feels it is an important policing tool, he says the emphasis should be more on quality of stops, not quantity. So, he would prefer to see officers hand in fewer forms containing more valuable information to help them in their work. But that will only work if the number of forms handed in ceases to be part of the consideration when an officer’s job is being evaluated, although it still would not stop an officer from harassing Black youth if that was his inclination.
We also have questioned over the past few weeks the recommendation from the Toronto Police Service Board, the civilian body which oversees the TPS, that police officers must provide a receipt to people they stop and question.
This is a typical response from politicians. The Board members, many of whom are politicians, having received complaints from members of the public about ‘carding’, wanted to seem to be doing something and their solution was to have officers produce this receipt. What exactly do they expect to accomplish by doing this? How would it benefit the people being stopped?
The other burning issue for us continues to be the fact that once someone’s name and personal information on those forms are entered into the police database, that person will in the future be listed as ‘known to police’.
I don’t know about anyone else, but when I read in the local newspapers of someone being questioned by the police, there is immediately a huge difference if that person is described as ‘not known to police’ or as ‘known to police’. It doesn’t matter that the latter might just have been stopped randomly – maybe on his way from the library one evening – by an officer and had his name entered into the police system. Being labelled as ‘known to police’ could end up causing a whole lot of hurt for a young Black man during a subsequent encounter with police. Just because one cop wanted to fill a quota – or meet the squad’s average.
We like the sound of this review that Sloly is heading up. We want it – and him – to be successful. We are also pleased to hear that Chief Blair supports it. However, if this policy referred to as ‘carding’ is not seriously addressed, redesigned or, better yet, completely discarded, our community – and especially our young men – will continue to be at risk of being unnecessarily criminalized.