Black, Middle Eastern people in Waterloo region twice as likely to be searched in custody
WRPS will be launching their community outreach this summer to help offer insight
Black and Middle Eastern people were more than twice as likely to be searched in the region while in custody in 2022, a Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS) report has found. Now the police say that they're trying to find out why.
The report, which was presented at the May 17 police board meeting, showed that Black residents are 2.34 times more likely to be searched while in custody compared to the regional population, and Middle Eastern people are 2.33 times more likely to experience the same. This can include anything from a pat down to a full strip search.
When compared to the region's white population, CBC News has calculated and confirmed that Black and Middle Eastern people are still more than twice as likely to be searched at a rate of 2.25 and 2.24 respectively using the region's population as a benchmark.
Under the Ontario Anti-Racism Act, all police services in the province are required to collect, analyze and report race-based data in order to address systemic racism in law enforcement.
There were 4,413 searches done in total in 2022.
Deciphering race-based data
Amanda Williams is manager of the WRPS strategic services branch and has a PhD in Social Psychology from York University. She said since they know that some racial minorities are disproportionately affected by aspects of policing, they're now trying to figure out why.
They're using a method to calculate disparity that solely uses their own police "incidents" and "enforcement action" data as a benchmark rather than using the regional population numbers.
In using this method they're comparing the search incidents against Black people to the incidents against white, for example, without taking into account that Black people account for 4.7 percent of the population and white for 70.3 per cent.
According to the report, the disparity is being calculated this way because they want "to drill into the factors that contribute to police practices, policies and procedures."
Les Jacobs, a professor with the faculty of social science and humanities at Ontario Tech University — and an academic partner helping the WRPS with their race base data — said that the police's disparity calculation is a useful step, but doesn't answer all questions.
"In my view it moves us forward at getting to why, but it doesn't answer the why," Jacobs told CBC News.
WRPS said that they're still determining what the results of these calculations actually mean in their entirety.
"I know what they mean from a police operational standpoint, because that's the lens I have," Williams told CBC News. "But I don't really know what they mean from a community standpoint, and that's what we're looking to work towards."
"The community, police officers say we're not quite happy with the stories that we're hearing, and so now what we're doing is … we're collecting the data to help understand the community story."
WRPS say that they're planning for a community engagement component, with a strategy that's launching in the summer, which they hope will offer more insight.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.