These are my remarks to the special Regional Council meeting on policing in the Niagara Region on July 23, 2020.
You can listen to my conversation with Matt Holmes of iHeart radio at 610 CKTB
This article from the St. Catharines Standard mentions every presenter except me. Probably because I asked that no media come to an event I organized in February because of the way that the media misrepresents Indigenous actions. Then I corrected the misinformation in the article as well as the misspelling of my name. They took me out of that article and I haven’t been mentioned by this paper since. Oopsie.
Note that while I did generally stick to my notes, these are not a transcript of my presentation and there may be additional comments in the audio, or things here which I did not say.
Council recently passed a motion that racism is a public health issue. That means that we need to recognize the racial inequities within policing that result in poorer outcomes for Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour.
Increased calls for service are directly related to decreased availability of community goods. I worked in Child Welfare for 15 years; policing related contacts were most often directly related to lack of services contributing to escalation of stress. Stable housing, food security, and access to meaningful mental health services for adults and children are needed. I criticized a police officer on social media once, got called into HR. The officer who reported my comment felt confident enough to remark that I may not get a timely response next time I call.
I disagree with McKendrick (Tara McKendrick, ED of CMHA for Niagara Region), calls to defund police do not include additional money specifically for training in mental health. Defunding police calls for money to be taken from policing and provided to those services already providing crisis, acute, and long term mental health care. These programs exist but are inadequately funded. Defunding police would release funding for these programs.
The CMHA has clearly stated that mental health is not a crime and that a mental health crisis requires a mental health response, not a police response. Including money for additional training goes directly against the CMHA’s own statement. CAMH and medical doctors have also spoken out on this.
We know that access to stable housing, food security, and mental health services result in safer and more stable communities. The research on this is consistent and yet the political will to adequately fund these things does not exist. I can only infer from this that safer and more stable communities are not really the goal. Particularly since there is clear research indicating that Black and Indigenous people are often inadequately diagnosed and treated.
The primary purpose of body cameras in the public eye is accountability which demonstrates a fundamental mistrust of police. If we trusted police we would not be asking for body cameras. They solve the wrong problem.
There is no consistent evidence to support decreased police violence related to body cameras, much of that research is problematic in its methodology and the most consistent evidence of decrease is when officers do not have the ability to control when the camera is on or off. Other studies have shown that assaults on officers increased with body cam use. Research has also shown that the footage from these cameras has resulted in increased prosecutions, one study showed that 93% of body cam footage was used in prosecutions of civilians and three British studies showed increased arrests, charges, guilty pleas, and guilty verdicts. While I can see that this would be appealing to Police, this will have a negative impact on BIPOC who are already over represented in the criminal system. Body cameras do not lead to less invasive policing. They lead to more invasive policing and there is no evidence that they improve public opinion of policing.
1 a) Diversity and cultural sensitivity are not the same thing as anti-racism and research does not support a positive outcome from implicit bias or diversity training which continue to situate the deficit or difference in other communities and often has the adverse effect of reinforcing stereotypes.
A recent statement that there is no systemic racism in the NRPS simply demonstrates a lack of understanding about systemic racism. Anti-racism means identifying inequities and then adopting policies that restore balance. Simply treating everyone the same does not address inequity because everyone is not the same.
Systemic racism is policies and practices that may appear neutral, but result in disadvantages or inequity. Many of our policies and practices come from periods in our history that we now recognize deliberately excluded Black and Indigenous people. Those policies and practices are not neutral.
Mental health training that does not include cultural context is an example of a policy that appears neutral but results in inequity.
Training should also include knowledge of how policing has historically reinforced these inequities.
Chief McCulloch said that they will not tolerate racism, what does that look like?
Regarding annual training, the 2016-2018 NRPS business plan identifies doing this training twice a year for 24 officers. At 48 officers per year it will take at a decade for 100% of frontline officers, not considering all other staff who have interaction with the public, interpret data or are otherwise involved.
How many officers participate annually?
BLM different in Ontario? Desmond Cole has spoken extensively to the flaws in Ontario policing, the inadequate responses of SIU departments most recently seen in the Dafonte Miller case. I will refer council to his book, The Skin We’re In for detailed coverage of multiple incidents.
1 c) Carding or street checks must be stopped immediately. Carding and street checks are another example of a policy that may appear neutral but creates inequity by disproportionately targeting Black and Indigenous people. They take place in primarily white parts of cities where Black and Indigenous people are not expected to be and are assumed to be there for anti-social reasons. Vancouver council unanimously voted to end this practice yesterday. Similarly, foot patrols which provide support to mostly white business owners have the impact of making Black and Indigenous people feel unsafe. These two practices are related and must stop.
1 d) Racially disaggregated data on all police interactions need to be publically available in order to determine inequities. We know that broadly Black and Indigenous people are over represented in policing and incarceration, we need to know what is taking place locally.
1 f) Many of these relationships already exist.
1g) A 0% increase is inadequate, particularly in the context of other needs in our communities.
The NRPS budget of $188.2 million from the 2020 operational budget for the Region of Niagara represents an increase of almost $8 million, 4.49% over the 2019 budget). Public Health and Community Services, which oversee services to Homelessness, Seniors, Children, Ontario Works, Public Health, Emergency Medical Services, and Emergency Management received a combined increase of only $6 million, 1.4% over last year. Niagara Regional Housing only received an increase of $1.8 million, or 2.8%.
The bulk of this increase is for police officers, one newspaper article stated that they sought to recruit 40 additional officers at a cost of 2.7 million. At an average rent in Niagara of $1000 that would pay for one year of 2,250 rental units for people needing stable housing. That would pay for 60 mental health workers. That would pay for shelter space and addictions services. It would pay for community based programs that do preventative, not reactive, work.
1 h) It is important that the diversity target not simply reflect a statistical mirror of the community but that 60% of the Board be from marginalized communities and that it have co-chairs, one of who is a member those communities. It is not enough to listen to members of these communities; they must be in positions of real authority where they can push for change. They should also be fully civilian and exclude former police officers.
Friendly amendment: Mental health and addiction calls require a mental health and/or addiction response. Not an armed response. These are health issues, not crimes. Regional council has already recognized that racism is a public health issue. Unstable mental health and addiction are two outcomes of systemic and interpersonal racism and as such calls of this nature result in disproportionate criminalization of Black and Indigenous people. These calls are rooted in public health and require a public health response. This is how we create and sustain safe communities.
Furthermore, although not addressed in the motion, I am requesting that any stores of tear gas, pepper spray, or other chemical agents be destroyed. These are not permitted for use in combat situations under the Geneva Convention and have no place in policing.
This motion indicates a willingness to move forward on issues related to policing, but it does not contain the specific and necessary anti-racist language that will truly provoke change and hold the NRPS accountable. It asks for reports without making demands. Black and Indigenous people have been waiting for longer than Canada has existed for systems that will challenge rather than reinforce inequity. It is unreasonable to make us wait longer.