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Saskatchewan police oversight body to track race, gender, ethnicity data on voluntary basis

Saskatchewan police oversight agency wants to track demographic data on people filing complaints
WATCH: The agency responsible for investigating complaints against municipal police officers in Saskatchewan wants to learn more about the people who are expressing concerns in an attempt to better understand its growing workload.

The civilian-led agency responsible for investigating complaints against police forces in Saskatchewan is going to begin collecting information on race, ethnicity and gender.

Public Complaints Commission chair Brent Cotter said the agency finalized the decision to do so last week and is in the process of altering the complainant form.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan police oversight agency wants to track demographic data on people filing complaints

“It would be a bit of a denial of reality not to think there are dimensions of racism in all kinds of professions in our society and policing would not be any different,” Cotter told Global News.

“If we are seeing that or seeing patterns of that, I think we need to try to be able to identify and address it and work with the leaders of the police organizations to stamp it out.”

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The commission receives more complaints about problematic encounters between minorities and police officers than it does about encounters between non-minorities and police, Cotter said, citing a “wide range” of possible reasons.

“One could be disrespect racially that’s directed at an individual,” he said, noting, “it is hard to tease that out in relation to any individual case.”

Saskatchewan police oversight body struggling to keep up with record-high number of complaints
Saskatchewan police oversight body struggling to keep up with record-high number of complaints

The Public Complaints Commission continues to face more complaints than in years passed, according to Cotter, who has noted that understanding trends and patterns is key to reducing the volume, but that a lack of resources has made collecting data challenging.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan police oversight body struggling to keep up with record-high number of complaints

When it comes to gathering information on gender, race and ethnicity, the commission had tread carefully, Cotter said, concerned about potentially being disrespectful and/or violating privacy interests.

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The commission now feels that giving complainants the option to disclose more about themselves if they wish is in the public interest.

“We’ll be able to do more analysis and we’ll be able to begin to identify if there are patterns,” he said.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan serious incident investigators could alleviate oversight body’s workload: chair

The data, subject to protecting individuals’ rights, will be made public, said Cotter, who hopes this is step in a progressive direction toward better understanding relational barriers between minorities and police.

The changes will be reflected on the online form as well as on the hard copies in police stations by the end of the year.

“I, myself, would be disappointed if we don’t have it in place by the end of the summer,” Cotter said.