A project to determine if Ottawa police engage in racial profiling has cleared the public consultation stage.
Matthew Lee, Centretown News
Artist Liisa Sora works on the graphic wall at Ottawa Police Services' Traffic Stop Race Data Collection Project consultation.
Police held round-table discussions last week. About 175 people attended and voiced their concerns about the study and to make recommendations.
“This is an exciting educational opportunity,” said participant Patricia Harewood.
Debra Frazer, Ottawa Police Services director general, said the study is an opportunity for better policing.
“Is your behaviour motivated by race? Ask yourself (the OPS) that question as an institution,” she asked rhetorically.
Participants called for regular public updates about the project and voiced concerns over proposed race categories and how to keep officer bias out of the data.
The OPS also hosted a two-hour chat through Twitter Jan. 23 for similar feedback, met with minority community groups and offered an online questionnaire, said Insp. Pat Flanagan, the OPS project lead in an interview
“(The goal) is to incorporate all the feedback into the project to ensure we’re designing the best possible product,” he said.
Over the next two years, officers will record these perceptions at all traffic stops as part of the Traffic Stop Race Data Collection Project, beginning April 27 – the largest such study in Canada.
The data collected would be compared to information from the Canadian census to determine if statistics reveal possible racial profiling behaviour among officers.
The project stems from a settlement between the Ottawa Police Services Board and the Ontario Human Rights Commission calling for more race data collection after a 2005 human rights complaint by an Ottawa man, said Flanagan.
A young man driving a luxury car alleged police stopped him because of his race.
The OPS is working with a research team at York University that has proposed the methodology for the study, including race categories and what information to collect, said Flanagan. The final details will be fleshed out in the next few weeks after considering public feedback.
“This project is groundbreaking because there’s so much careful attention to data collection,” said Dr. Lesley Jacobs, a member of the research team.
The proposal was influenced by studies in the United States and England, as well as smaller Canadian projects, said Dr. Lorne Foster, another team member, in an interview.
It suggests data collection be a computerized system in the officer’s vehicle. The officer would see the current OPS race categories, which were used to sporadically collect race data in the past.
“The best way to create the study is not to create it where officers have too much of a change or it becomes too complicated for them to comply,” he said.
The categories are, however, outdated, so the team would then convert the OPS categories into their own and compare them to census data.
Since the study is about police perception of race rather than how the driver self-identifies, the proposed categories are broader than those in the census, taking into account the difficulty of identifying race by observation.
For example, the team’s East Asian/Southeast Asian category covers the census’s Chinese, Filipino, Korean, Japanese and Southeast Asian categories.
The data could help form future public policies, said Foster. “A lot of people have opinions but we haven’t had the data in this country to be able to make in informed decisions.”
The OPS plans to release a report in March about the project’s next steps.