Black people are three times more likely than white people to be stopped for a street check by police, according to statistics released by Halifax Regional Police (HRP).
HRP said Monday they are analyzing the data to find out why there is a significant disproportion of visible minorities involved in street checks.
Of the visible minorities listed in the analysis between 2005 and 2016 about 11 per cent of people stopped by police were black, with the next highest being Arab or West Asian at 3.38 per cent. But according to the 2011 National Household Survey by Statistics Canada, black people represent only 3.6 per cent of the entire population of Halifax. White people, however, make up 88 per cent of the municipality’s population with about 82 per cent of street checks conducted.
During this overall period, of the almost 36,700 people involved in street checks, 18 per cent of those checked by police were members of a visible minority, police say.
The No. 1 reason a street check would occur, according to police, is prior interaction with police officers. Police may also perform a street check when they observe something or speak with someone “that may be of significance to investigations.” Police say the information is then used to “prevent, detect and solve crime” in the community.
“The street check by policy should be something when an officer feels there’s some level of suspicion or something going on,” deputy chief Bill Moore told reporters Monday. “It doesn’t mean that there’s any criminality, it normally is location or time of day specific and that really is what it is.”
Most people who spoke with Global News said they had not been stopped for a street check and had good experience with police.
“Honestly, in Canada no not for me, I’ve never been stopped,” Annessa Ford said. “The police are really nice and friendly.”
But Mike Johnston said he has experienced street checks a few times, but was let go without issue. He said he hasn’t had problems recently but it “does happen.”
“Sort of fit the profile of someone who was doing something but it was soon determined that I wasn’t, I was free to go,” Johnston said.
Street checks began in 2005 when officers started collecting data like age, gender, location and ethnicity. Prior to that, Moore said there were “discussions” when sergeants would ask officers to “do this much work.” He said that’s changed.
“What we want, they should be based on quality, they should be based on officers making proper observations,” Moore said. “We want to make sure we’re doing them with respect, that we’re doing them with procedural justice and that we’re not bringing in any overt or subconscious bias into those checks and that’s what we’re going to continue to look at.”
Halifax police’s research coordinator, Chris Giacomantonio said at a Board of Police Commissioners meeting that a preliminary look at the statistics showed the checks disproportionately affect black people, but the reason, he said, could not be explained.
The full preliminary analysis, released by police Monday afternoon, also showed 61 per cent of people checked had no prior criminal charges.
Giacomantonio said in his analysis of the data, he’ll be looking at neighbourhood effects – how much is predicted by the neighbourhood where checks happen – and effectiveness of street checks.
“So to what degree does an increase in street checks either in general or looking at specific types of crime, so if people with criminal histories around break and enter are stopped more in an area does break and enter drop in that area subsequently,” Giacomantonio said.
In terms of effectiveness, he said an analysis would still not give a clear answer but may show how the procedure could be useful in one area and how to improve it in another.
What questions they receive from the public about the data will also be looked at, he said.