Hamilton police express concerns about race-reporting policy, advocates call it ‘necessary’

Hamilton Police Chief Eric Girt says the limitations associated with new provincial policy on reporting the race of individuals involved in "use of force" incidents are "problematic". Lisa Polewski / 900 CHML

Hamilton police are expressing their concern about provincial regulations requiring police officers to record the race of people involved in “use of force” incidents, while anti-racism advocates say those new regulations are “necessary” in ensuring accountability.

The new rules from Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General were discussed briefly at a Hamilton police services board meeting on Jan. 20, during which Chief Eric Girt said they’re concerned that officers who must fill out a “use of force” report are required to choose from seven different racial categories.

Speaking on Global News Radio 900 CHML’s Bill Kelly Show on Tuesday, deputy chief Ryan Diodati said Hamilton police aren’t concerned about collecting race data, but are concerned about the limitations of the report.

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“We just don’t want to set our officers up for failure,” said Diodati.

“There’s more than just seven categories of race within our community. So it really limits our officers’ ability to capture everyone that we encounter.”

The report’s “frequently asked questions” section says the data is required in order to identify and monitor “potential racial bias or profiling in a specific service, program or function.”

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In response to a question about how officers should interpret the race categories, it recommends that “the officer should provide his/her best assessment of the subject’s race, honestly and in good faith.”

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Girt said he informed the Ontario Council of Chiefs of Police about his concerns, including how the issue of perception could be “problematic”.

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Kojo Damptey, interim executive director of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, said the race reporting legislation is necessary and a step forward in ensuring police are accountable for using force in specific situations.

“Usually, when police engage in physical force, predominantly it’s targeted toward racialized individuals,” said Damptey.

“So I think that maybe their displeasure is that now they’ve been mandated to make sure that these numbers are there.”

The actual conversation between board members about the new provincial regulations during the Jan. 20 board meeting was also a concern to Damptey, who said they ought to listen to input from community members who deal with race issues.

“If they’re struggling to deal with this issue, then I think that’s a red flag for us. For me and for our organization, for racialized folks in Hamilton, to feel that they’re uncomfortable dealing with issues around race. And especially when it has to do with violence and how the police treat racialized individuals.”

Dr. Ameil Joseph, a McMaster University professor who specializes in race and critical race theory, said it seems as though Hamilton police are misunderstanding how and why the race data is being collected, citing the Data Standards for the Identification and Monitoring of Systemic Racism document from Ontario’s Anti-Racism Directorate.

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He echoed Damptey’s suggestion that police should be consulting with those who have a background in race issues as they implement the new provincial policy.

“If you want to respect the work and you acknowledge that there are problems — maybe they don’t — then wouldn’t you try to respect it by doing it right?” he said.

“I don’t think that’s what’s happening right now. That’s not what I’m seeing, at least.”

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