A citywide survey commissioned by the Toronto Police Services Board has highlighted stark divides in the ways that different communities view police.
The survey, commissioned by the police board’s Police and Community Engagement Review (PACER) committee, sought to establish a baseline understanding of the public’s perception of police – particularly regarding the contentious issue of carding, or street checks. More than 1,500 Toronto residents, varying in age, race, location and income, were randomly selected in November and December of 2017 and interviewed about factors such as honesty, trust, integrity and bias.
A report on the survey’s findings was presented to the board on Thursday, noting that 68 per cent of Torontonians surveyed said they believe the city’s police officers are honest. Seventy-two per cent said they believe police officers act with integrity. But when those responses are broken down by demographics such as race and income, the findings fluctuate.
“While many of these overall metrics may be positive, they mask important underlying demographic differences that must be highlighted,” the report reads.
For example, while 65 per cent of respondents said they believe Toronto police officers can be trusted to treat members of their ethnic group fairly, only 26 per cent of black respondents said the same, noted study co-author Carlyle Farrell, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s Ted Rogers School of Management.
And while 19 per cent of respondents over all felt police officers had discriminated against them because of their ethnic background, that figure jumped to 50 per cent when responses from black residents were isolated.
“Clearly something is going on here that needs to be addressed,” Mr. Farrell said Thursday.
One of the primary goals of the survey was to better understand the public’s views on and experiences with carding, after new legislation took effect to set parameters on when and how police can stop and question people.
Roughly 11 per cent of survey respondents said they had been carded. The majority of them were men (75 per cent) and younger than 35 years old (78 per cent). A disproportionate number (42 per cent) were black, had only a high-school education (40 per cent) and earned less than $20,000 a year (34 per cent).
The survey found a “very clear” correlation between carding and the way people view police. Sixty-three per cent of people who had been carded held a negative view of police. Comparatively, 65 per cent of people who had not been carded held a favourable view of police.
One positive aspect of the report, said co-author Gervan Fearon, president and vice-chancellor of Brock University, is what he called “tremendous goodwill” on the part of the community to engage with police, with 87 per cent of respondents saying they felt the police could do more to engage with the community, while at the same time, 72 per cent felt that the community could do more to engage with police.
“There is clearly a foundation in place on which to build a true partnership between the police and the community,” the report says. “It is essential that this goodwill not be squandered.”
Mr. Farrell stressed the importance of using this report as a baseline to measure progress. “I think the agency has something to strive for," he said. “The differences in perception in the police based on race is worrisome, and something needs to be done about that. Better engagement in marginalized communities, better public messaging ... something needs to be done to narrow that gap.”
Chief Mark Saunders, who was not at the meeting, said in an e-mail statement that the survey “has given us an understanding of the good things we have done and the things we, as a service, need to continue to work on. … We remain committed to listening to our communities to ensure we are getting it right.”