Criminal Law

Police contact cards highlight racial trend

Toronto criminal lawyer Roots Gadhia says it's a disturbing trend and a serious problem in need of more discussion that contact card data reveals how police in the country's largest city stop and question a larger proportion of people with black and brown skin.


"It's unfortunate that police still don't have the understanding to acknowledge their own biases when they're policing in the community," she tells AdvocateDaily.com. "The numbers show they're targeting blacks and browns more than any other race."


Gadhia makes the comments in light of a Toronto Star analysis of police contact card data, which shows that while fewer people were stopped, questioned and documented by Toronto police last year, the proportion of those with dark skin increased. Some have said the numbers are a sign of "systemic discrimination," reports the newspaper.


"In July 2013, carding in Toronto dropped by 75 per cent compared to that time a year earlier — a plunge that coincided with the introduction of a carding receipt system that requires officers to hand over a form to a citizen, which indicates a contact card is being generated. Carding continued to stay low in the following months," says the article.


Meanwhile, the proportion of contact cards for people with black skin rose to 27.4 per cent following the July drop in carding numbers, says the newspaper.


Contact cards are used by police to record locations and personal details, including skin colour classifications that fall into one of black, brown, white or other, as well as the names of others involved in a stop. The information is entered into a database used to search for suspects and connections following crimes, explains The Star.


Toronto police have said the force is continuing to take steps to eliminate prejudice amongst officers, but that the race of those carded will remain disproportionate because of socioeconomic factors, says the article.


Gadhia doesn't buy the force's response that the issue has nothing to do with the quality of policing because all races live in lower socioeconomic areas.


"You can't just use the excuse that these are the crime areas that are being policed and you can't say it is just a socioeconomic problem," she says. "They're forgetting that in those low socioeconomic areas there are also large numbers of whites, Asians and other backgrounds who are not being targeted by the police. So with all things equal, we have to recognize that police are still stopping black youth more than the white youth, over the Asian youth. Economics affects every race. It has nothing to do with one particular race over another."


Gadhia says it's also problematic that the proportion of police contact cards where no skin colour was noted increased by 17.5 per cent, which has raised concerns about whether some officers have stopped fully filling out the cards to avoid being scrutinized, The Star reports.


The lawyer says she hopes the data puts a spotlight on the issue of racial bias in policing because it's obvious from the numbers that a problem persists.


"I hope it will draw out at least some dialogue on how police are failing to recognize these issues within the force and maybe their training on racial bias will be more successful because they are recognizing that it is a race issue," she says.


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