Hot button issue: "Police carding erodes trust among minority communities"
For years, civil liberty organizations across Canada have viewed police carding as a controversial practice and one that infringes upon human rights.
There are many in favour of completely abolishing police carding – a process by which subjects are stopped on the street and questioned by officers – yet many simply do not understand the necessity of police intelligence for current or future crime cases and carding can be helpful in providing that intelligence.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) on police carding
Members of minority communities feel that they have become the main target for police carding and advocacy groups are concerned that racial profiling has become a major underpinning of the practice. Furthermore, many black and brown community members blame police for targeting them simply to meet a quota.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) has worked closely with affected communities as well as with the Toronto Police Services Board. It writes that the practice of police carding has increasingly become one that does not comply with the Human Rights Code and The Charter. It advocates for a clear policy outlining the correct implementation of the practice in order to ensure that racial profiling does not occur.
Public demonstrations such as the Black Lives Matter protest in July of 2015 –which shutdown the southbound Allen Road in Toronto – have pushed for Ontario government action. Mayor John Tory called to end carding in Toronto due to the negative results observed – immense erosion of trust – after reviewing the controversial practice.
To date, no law has officially been passed by Ontario government to abolish carding. Mayor John Tory and Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders express opposing views on the practice and have yet to agree.
Community Engagements are imperative
Although there is an evident lack of clarity regarding the way these community engagements – known as carding – are conducted, which has contributed to a lack of trust. It is imperative that police officers continue the practice. A fundamental aspect to police work is consistently gathering information about the communities that they work in. If we prohibit officers from doing this we are essentially prohibiting them from protecting us against crime.
There is a social cost to the practice of carding but these engagements, which create contacts for the police must occur in order to ensure the safety and well being of communities across Ontario.
Deputy Chief of Toronto Police, Peter Sloly explains that what many fail to take into consideration is that often, police officers are called to investigate particular individuals or activity within a community. There are specific circumstances that raise suspicion both for officers as well people living within these communities.
Community engagements provide officers with insight into such things as gang culture. Officers would be unable to gather such information and create links between community members if they are restricted in conducting such practices.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders acknowledges the controversy surrounding the practice of carding. However, he makes it clear that eliminating the practice is not a solution. “If we remove the ability of our officers to engage with the community, all I can tell you is it will put us in a situation where there will be an increase in crime.” Saunders said outside the Ontario Federation of Labour’s headquarters.
The goal is to increase the value of the practice and decrease the cost. There is no right or wrong answer, nor is there a clear-cut solution to the controversy surrounding carding. There does need to be a call to action in order to reform these practices to accomplish this goal.
There is nothing wrong with an increased police presence within communities that experience higher crime rates provided it is approached in the proper way.
Communication is key
The key in rebuilding and maintaining community trust in police officers is communication. Police officers must ensure that each encounter with a member of a minority community is treated with respect and transparent communication throughout.
If the situation is approached in a manner where an officer simply wants to build a rapport with the individual then there will be no feeling of direct threat or invasion of privacy.
This will not only provide a wealth of critical information for police gathering but it will ensure that confidence is slowly restored in the police service.
Ontarians should be made aware of the fact that they can choose to walk away and decline questions from an officer under a circumstance in which they have been stopped. If the Toronto Police Services Board puts reforms into place, officers will be able to successfully reach citizens and adequately use community engagement as an intelligence-gathering tool.
Racialized youth currently believe they are targets for police officers and this has eroded trust. The way officers can change this perception is to continue community engagements, in the right way. A manner, which leaves both parties satisfied with the exchange.
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21 Oct. 2015