Despite growing opposition from members of London City Council, including Mayor Matt Brown, London’s top cop is refusing to put an end to the controversial practice of street checks.
During a snap-news conference Tuesday afternoon at London Police Headquarters, Chief John Pare defended the need for the checks – also known as carding – but noted that members of the service would be held accountable for biased interactions.
“I have made it clear that interactions with members of the public that are arbitrary, racially motivated, or conducted in a biased manner will not be tolerated, and members of this police service will be held accountable for any contravention of the regulation in our procedures relating to bias-free policing” Pare said.
Pare, who held the news conference alongside LPSB Chair Jeannette Eberhard, told reporters the service maintained that interacting with the community and recording some interactions was important to public safety. Members of the public expected a proactive police force rather than one that waited for a call or reacted to incidents after they had occurred, he said.
“In fulfilling our public safety mandate it is our intent to continue to deliver effective services that are compliant with all applicable legislation while ensuring supervision and oversight mechanisms are in place to safeguard the rights and freedoms of all citizens.”
Pare told reporters that training relating to the practice was provided to all members of the police service earlier this year, and that mandatory Ministry training began earlier this month.
The hastily announced news conference came less than two hours before City Council would unanimously vote to endorse a motion that would see Mayor Matt Brown present a letter to the London Police Services Board demanding that police ban the practice of street checks and ensure ongoing anti-racism and anti-oppression training across the organization.
The same motion sailed through city committee last week with unanimous support.
The vote, however, is largely seen as symbolic, as police can’t be forced to do away with the practice.
Carding is whereby police officers record information about people, vehicles and properties though details like names, addresses, date of birth, races, and identifiable markings of community members. The interactions are voluntary, although critics argue that people may not know they have the right to decline to answer questions.
Critics of the practice say that minority groups are disproportionately exposed to carding. According to London Police numbers, of the 14,000 people entered in the service’s database in 2014, 71.2 per cent were white, and 7.7 per cent were black. Census numbers from 2011 show London’s population was 82 per cent white, and 2.2 per cent black.
Starting January 1st, Police will be provincially mandated to tell any carded individual that they don’t have to answer questions. Police will also give them a receipt at the end.
Police Chief John Pare has rejected calls to include a reason for the street check on the receipt, citing privacy concerns. Pare has stated he doesn’t need the board’s approval for the decision, and says the receipts meet provincial guidelines.
The decision to not include a reason on the receipt has further irked anti-carding protesters, who plan to demonstrate outside Police headquarters during the next Board meeting on December 14th.
Asked if he had concerns the carding issue came off as a clash between police and City Hall, Pare referenced the work he and Councillor Mo Salih did earlier in the year co-chairing a community and police collaboration group.
“For 10 months we’ve met on a monthly basis with the community to hear concerns and issues, some of it resolved around the street checks, some of it resolved around the relationships and partnerships that we have with many diverse communities,” Pare said. “I made a commitment, and we’re going forward with some of the training suggestions that are being brought forward by these individuals in the community.
Pare was also asked how the public could trust police’s word that the practice wouldn’t be used in a discriminatory way given that the service’s own statistics showed a higher number of stops for residents who are visible minorities.
“There could be a number of underlying reasons,” Pare said. “Certain groups, racial or otherwise, have different rates of contact with the police, this is not a phenomenon that is (unique to) London, it’s not a phenomenon to the province, or across this country. There are a number of socio-economic factors that may or may not contribute to this. … To characterize the collection of identifying information as a racist practice is really a simplistic response to a very complex issue.”
Speaking with reporters after the news conference, Forrest Bivens of the London Race Relations Advisory Committee criticized the lack of communication surrounding carding’s effectiveness and its propensity to disproportionately target minority groups.
He added that many didn’t seem to understand the effect carding has on people.
“Even if you’ve never been carded as a person of colour, you know you’re more statistically more apt to be stopped. You’re looking over your shoulder,” Bivens said. “The people who are making these decisions, it doesn’t affect their lives, or the lives of people that they love, their family members, it doesn’t affect the people that they socialize with on a day to day basis. … If they’re not seeing the effects of it, then why should they care?”