This week the Toronto Police Services Board released Perceptions of the Toronto Police and Impact of Rule Changes Under Regulation 58/16: A Community Survey.  The survey examines public perceptions of the Toronto Police Service and community views on issues such as racial profiling, bias in policing, and public trust in the city’s law enforcement officers.

The survey involved personal interviews using a structured questionnaire and was undertaken over a two-month period (November-December 2017) in various locations across Toronto. 

While the 135-page survey provides a baseline against which its metrics may be compared in subsequent years, recency of the survey data can be important to an accurate assessment of our present perceptions about how we are policed. That the survey was released almost a year and a half after the data it relies upon was collected should give us pause for concern.  On the other hand, there appears to be no immediate reason for us to think that attitudes towards policing in Toronto have significantly altered since the time the data was collected. 

Some of the survey’s conclusions are as follows:

*There is skepticism that bias on the part of police officers can be effectively eliminated with the implementation of new legislation, such as Ontario Regulation 58/16 (which came into force on January 1, 2017 and now governs the practice of “regulated interactions”, such as street checks and carding).  (Survey, p. 9/135).

*Forty-two percent of Torontonians agree with the use of physical force by the city’s police officers against members of their community. (Survey, p. 3/135).

*Sixty-five percent of Torontonians believe that the city’s police officers can be trusted to treat individuals of their ethnic group fairly.

*Sixty-four percent of Torontonians believe that carding does indeed make for safer communities.

*Sixty-three percent of respondents who had never been carded argue that in conducting street checks Toronto police single individuals out because of their race.

*Fifty percent of Torontonians believe that the city’s police officers are impartial, i.e. do not favor members of any particular ethnic group.

*Every $20,000 decrease in an individual’s income increases the odds of the person being carded by seven percent.

*Fifty-eight percent of Torontonians believe that the city’s police officers are responsive to their needs.

*Perceptions of the police vary among demographic groups.  For example, Blacks and some other minority groups clearly do not view the city’s law enforcement officers in the same light as their White/Caucasian peers. (Survey, p. 8/135).  While 65% of the city’s population believe that Toronto police officers can be trusted to treat members of their ethnic group fairly the result for blacks is only 26%. While 72% of the population believe that Toronto police act with integrity only 50% of blacks were in agreement. Similarly while 68% of Torontonians believe that officers are honest only 41% of blacks and 53% of Indigenous respondents were able to support that position. (Survey , p.  4/135).

*Division 12 (located the north-west of the city) was the clear standout where perceptions of honesty, trust, and lack of bias and favoritism were significantly higher than the overall readings for the agency. [FN] For instance, seventy-seven percent of respondents who reside in Division 12 believe that Toronto police officers can be trusted to treat individuals of their ethnic background fairly – a result which is well above the 53% reading for all Toronto Police Service divisions. 

 

Stuart O’Connell, O’Connell Law Group (All rights reserved to author).

[FN] Data on Torontonians’ perception of their law enforcement officers were examined using the police division as the unit of analysis.   Division 12 is hemmed by West-Humber River, North-Highway 401, East-Canadian National Railway line, and South-St. Clair Ave.