Toronto police force still much whiter than the city's population

Toronto's police service is one of more racially diverse in Canada but it still does not accurately reflect the population it serves, an analysis by CBC News has found.

3 in 4 Toronto police officers are white, while only half of the city's population is Caucasian

The Toronto police service said that it has made strides in improving the diversity of its members. In 2000, only nine per cent of officers were not white. (CBC)

While Toronto's police service is one of the more racially diverse forces in Canada, it still does not accurately reflect the population it serves, an analysis by CBC News has found.

Roughly 75 per cent of Toronto police officers are white, while only about half of the city's residents are — while the other half come from a wide diversity of backgrounds.

CBC News surveyed all major police services in Canada to determine their demographics and racial diversity.

That survey found that the Toronto police service matches its population better than do those in York and Peel regions, but less so than that of Hamilton.

And community advocates say the number of non-white officers — one in four — is not good enough.

To improve diversity in policing, the force must continue to recruit members of visible minorities and ensure that all of its officers are trained properly in how to interact with diverse communities, these advocates said.

Mark Pugash, spokesman for Toronto police, said the force has become more diverse but low turnover rates make progress slow. (CBC)

The force has made "enormous" efforts in the past 10 years to increase its diversity, a civilian spokesman for Toronto police said.

"We need a police service that reflects the makeup of this city," Mark Pugash said this week. "It's not enough to look like the community you serve. You have to train all of your people to relate in a respectful, professional way with all of the people they come into contact with every single day of the week."

Pugash said the service has seen results from its recruiting efforts, but low turnover makes it challenging.

"People who join tend to stay for 30 years, or in other cases 35 years or longer," he said. "We've also had hiring freezes for a number of years in recent times. Given the lack of turnover, the progress we have made has been quite significant."

Progress 'quite significant'

Fewer than 10 per cent of Toronto officers were part of a "visible minority" group in 2000, he said, compared to today's 24 per cent.

And he said the service began focusing on recruiting Somali Canadians after hundreds of people from Somalia moved to Toronto. He said the Toronto police has also been successful in debunking certain myths about policing through a program that teams up youths with officers.

"And at every one of our graduations, we make a point of pointing out the gender breakdown, the educational background, and the staggering number of languages that are spoken by the people we're bringing into this organization."

In comparison to the Toronto police, 17 per cent of the York regional police force is not white, while 44 per cent of the population is from a diverse background. In Peel region, 57 per cent of the population is not Caucasian, but only 19 per cent of its police force is made up of non-white officers.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, sociology professor at the University of Toronto, says the push to diversify the police has mainly happened in the last two decades. (CBC)

Hamilton's police force, however, almost perfectly matches the racial diversity of the community it serves. Its police service is 17.2 per cent diverse compared to the city's population, which is 17.7 per cent diverse.

Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, an assistant sociology professor at the University of Toronto in Mississauga, said the Toronto police service has made progress in diversifying its force. Owusu-Bempah has studied race, crime and criminal justice in Canada.

"Our cities in terms of their racial makeup have changed rather rapidly. Toronto was still a relatively racially homogenous city up through the 1970s and even until the early to mid-1980s and there's only really been a push to diversify policing over perhaps the last two decades."

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders is the city's first black police chief. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

He said the Toronto police need to wait for attrition to change its makeup. 

"It's going to take both time and effort on the part of police services to represent the communities that they police."

Black Lives Matter Toronto co-founder Sandy Hudson said that while the findings do not surprise her, she is unsure whether diversity targets will necessarily bring about change.

"I don't know whether or not more racialized faces on the police force is going to change that," she told CBC News.

"A lot of people pointed to the new police chief in Toronto as somehow heralding some sort of new era in relationships between the Toronto police service and the black community because the new police chief, Mark Saunders, is black.

"There has to be a real commitment to changing policy, to changing structure, and to changing the institution as a whole."

A co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto says diversity targets won't necessarily bring about change in the police force. (CBC)