Visible minorities disproportionately affected by Windsor police use of force in 2020: report
Activists say the statistics show city police need to address bias and profiling
Black people and other visible minorities were disproportionately affected by Windsor police's use of force in 2020, according to statistics from the force's annual report.
Despite only representing five per cent of the city's population, Black people make up almost 18 per cent of incidents where use-of-force tactics were implemented by Windsor police in 2020.
Indigenous people were also over represented in the incidents.
Overall, while visible minorities make up just over 17% of the census area's population, according to the latest census, they make up about a third, or roughly 33 per cent, of those who had force used against them by Windsor police.
Use-of-force incidents are considered anytime police drew a handgun or were involved in a physical altercation with an individual that caused serious injuries.
The police force's annual report show 298 people were involved in use-of-force incidents throughout 2020 and of that total, 52 were Black.
Starting Jan. 1, 2020, Ontario became the first province to mandate all its police officers to identify and document the race of an individual on whom they have used force. The reports are sent to the provincial Ministry of the Solicitor General, which oversees policing in the province.
During this week's meeting of the Windsor Police Services Board, questions were raised by one member about the disproportionately of Black people in the use-of-force report, compared to the general population and how it would be addressed.
"We are actively providing training with respect to systemic racism and racial profiling within our organization," said Windsor police Insp. Jim Farrand.
"The ministry has indicated to us that they're prepared to work with police services to identify any training issues or underlying factors that address disproportionality."
But when asked by the board if Windsor police can be proactive by implementing new training measures on its own, rather than waiting for the province, officers again referenced the existing training already underway. It also noted it was awaiting new training videos from Niagara Regional Police.
The disproportionality is "pretty outrageous" for Mehari Hagos, director of the MH-100 program which mentors at-risk youth.
On one hand, he said, police have a job to do by using force on those they deem necessary. However, there's still fears within Windsor's Black community that they are more likely to be targeted by police, Hagos added.
"It's most likely that you're going to be wrongfully accused or face some type of police brutality," he said.
Police brutality and misidentification is something Hagos is no stranger to, he said, recalling instances where he was punched, pinned to a wall and slammed to the ground with guns drawn to his head for being near a crime scene in the Glengarry neighbourhood where he was raised.
"It just depends on where you live, I guess. You can't escape it. Even though I'm Mehari Hagos, executive director of the MH-100 youth program, I'm still Black," he said.
"If the police force got the training and they understood what's going on, then these things wouldn't happen or they'd happen less likely."
Hagos has spent the past three years working with Windsor police to educate officers on racial bias. Despite that, he said, disproportionality of use-of-force on Black people is a problem that still needs to be fixed.
"You're trying to fix something that's been going on for years and years — not just Windsor police, but police in general. That was how they policed things: by force, by throwing someone on the ground, by beating somebody up or whatever it might have been," he said.
"Just because we've been doing it for the past three years, it's not enough. The time is now to educate them even more."
For Camisha Sibblis, a University of Windsor lecturer and member of the school's Anti-Black Racism Task Force, far more work needs to be done in addressing racial disproportionality in policing beyond implementing new training programs for existing officers.
"I don't think you can ultimately teach people to see Black people as people, as human beings," she said, referring to implicit biases some officers may carry with them regarding Black people.
One of her biggest issues with police's record-keeping of use-of-force data, she said, is the potential for inaccurate data to be submitted — something Windsor police has acknowledged can happen.
Use-of-force reports currently ask the officer to record the race of people according to their perception at the time of the incident. According to Farrand, there have been instances of officers learning they were not accurate in their initial assumption of an individual's race until "well after the fact."
"It's not lawful for the officers at the time to ask the individuals what their race is to satisfy the requirements of the use of force report. So there is a degree or a margin of error," said Farrand.
But recording race-based data that — in some instances — is incorrect can be problematic, according to Sibblis. She said it ultimately leaves the power in the hands of officers to define how certain behaviours and races can be classified.
"They are attributing meaning to what a Black person does. They're reading their behaviour in a particular way," said Sibblis.
"I think identifying people is part of the issue because we are understanding people through this white lens — and not allowing people to identify themselves."
The ministry has indicated to us that they're prepared to work with police services to identify any training issues or underlying factors that address disproportionality.- Insp. Jim Farrand, Windsor Police Service
Beyond the potential for an officer to misidentify an individual's race, the Windsor Police Service suggested other reasons why data surrounding use of force can be inaccurate, including "transient criminals" coming in from outside Windsor and recidivism rates.