Halifax police reveal plan to improve use of street checks

Halifax Regional Police's 530 officers — from the chief through to new recruits — will be trained on fair and impartial policing in order to improve street check practices that disproportionately target black people.

Report shows black, West Asian individuals were over-represented in street check data

Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais updates reporters on the force's street check practices that disproportionately target blacks. (CBC)

All Halifax Regional Police officers — from the chief through to new recruits — will receive training in 2018 on fair and impartial policing in order to improve street check practices that disproportionately target black people.

It's one of several measures the police force is taking, Halifax Regional Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais told the board of police commissioners on Monday.

The force will also conduct a privacy review of street checks to consider whether police retain street check records for the appropriate amount of time, continue to analyze street check data and develop community education related to citizens' rights during interactions with police.

Change won't happen overnight

Street checks involve police documentation of interactions with community members, including details such as age, gender, location, ethnicity and reason for the interaction.

 A CBC News investigation in January found that black people were three times as likely to be street checked by police as white individuals. Those findings relate to data collected between 2005-2016.

"It takes one day a time. It's not something that's going to be done overnight," Blais told reporters after the meeting. "There's trust that still has to be developed that we are working on.

"We can't be held accountable for the events of the past but we can be held accountable for the events of the present and the future and how we interact with our communities."

Police met with over-represented communities

Police representatives have met with black and local West Asian community groups because individuals from these communities were over-represented in the street check data.

The West Asian community representatives, however, said they didn't believe street checks were a major concern for their community, the chief's report said.

Chris Giacomantonio is the researcher analysing street check data for Halifax Regional Police (CBC)

"However, the African Diaspora and African Nova Scotian community expressed consistent and substantial concerns about their experiences with street checks, traffic stops, and more generally, the quality of interactions with police and privacy," the report said.

The Nova Scotia Human Rights Commission still has to appoint an independent researcher to work with Chris Giacomantonio, the force's research co-ordinator, who will conduct further analysis on what the data reveals.

The study will focus on understanding how the numbers relate to race and the effectiveness of street checks in fighting crime.

Where does this pattern come from?

"Part of the discussion has to be about where does this pattern come from?" Giacomantonio said to reporters. "Does it come from police activity? Does it come from the neighbourhoods in which people are conducting the street checks? Does it come from other factors that we have to start taking into consideration?"

Blais said street checks are used by police analysts daily to add information to ongoing criminal investigations and solve and prevent crimes.

Through the data is not favourable to the police force, Blais said it has sparked an important debate in the community.

"That debate isn't limited to interactions between police and members of the community, but overall issues — systemic issues — that have resulted in marginalization of certain communities in Halifax," he said.

About the Author

Sherri Borden Colley

Reporter

Sherri Borden Colley has been a reporter for more than 20 years. Many of the stories she writes are about social justice, race and culture, human rights and the courts.