Following the release of new data relating to use of force by Hamilton police, anti-racism groups are calling for immediate action to address the finding that Black people are grossly over-represented in the data. The data shows that force was used against Blacks people 17 percent of the time even though they represent 5 percent of the population.
Advocates demanded change while addressing a police services board meeting.
“If they do not come out of this [police board] meeting with recommendations, that will be a gross irresponsibility for Black community members and racialized community members in this city,” said Kojo Damptey, former executive director of the Hamilton Centre For Civic Inclusion.
Use of force includes firearm drawn, pointed or discharged, the use of a baton, pepper spray or Taser, or physical force that resulted in an injury requiring medical attention.
Sarah Jama, MPP for Hamilton Centre, promised to work closely with local anti-racism groups. She plans to put forward as a motion or private member’s bill at Queen’s Park in the coming months.
Ameil Joseph, an associate professor at McMaster University, said that police must acknowledge this fact and called for more accountability when red flags are raised in the reports.
The police service says racial disparities in the data alone may not be conclusive evidence of systemic racism.
For example, if five officers use force on four people, each officer would have to submit their own use of force report — leading to five separate reports of the one incident — and could only document the race of three people, even though they used force on four people.
The board heard that next year, the province is letting officers submit a single report, which would eliminate any duplicates and potentially impact the disparities between races.
Const. Chelsea Nash, one of the presenters, said officers sometimes have to make numerous considerations in seconds, ranging from what they know about the subject and how they are acting to considering their own abilities as an officer.
The service pointed to limitations in the provincially mandated data, too.
Those limitations include how officers report what race they think someone is, how all officers involved in a use of force incident must submit separate reports, and how officers can only document the perceived race of three people per report.
Ward 2 Coun. Cameron Kroetsch, one of three city council members on the board, said he was “deeply concerned” to see the disparities between racial groups in the use of force data.
He said there needs to be a better, deeper analysis of next year’s data.
The police service is also launching a race and identity-based data strategy in September.
Mayor Andrea Horwath, who is also on the board, said the board may have some thinking to do about the use of force reporting.
“To what extent does Hamilton, as a community, does this board … feel we maybe need to go above and beyond?”