Academic Aims For Social Justice

By Sara Faruqi, Toronto Police Service Published: 8 a.m. February 9, 2015
Updated: 4:32 p.m. February 26, 2015

An American academic will be reviewing how Toronto Police are improving interactions with the public.

A man in a suit looking ahead
Dr. Phillip Goff speaks to Toronto Police Service members at headquarters in late 2014

Dr. Phillip Goff, who is the co-founder of the Center for Policing Equity (CPE) will be reviewing the implementations of 31 recommendations of the Service’s  PACER report that was created to ensure the Service is policing in a fair and impartial manner.

He recently met with almost 40 members of the community, including local media, to discuss what his role was and how he was going to go about his work.

“What we do at CPE is we help law enforcement and communities create a language to create a table where people can come together and solve problems,’” explained Goff. He said he was not here to fix problems for the Service; he was going to use research as a lever for community and police collaboration. 

This is as independent and third-party as we can get

Introducing Goff, Deputy Chief Peter Sloly told the audience why the Service had chosen the CPE was to see if any recommendations implemented by the Service “had any positive effects on the issue of bias-free policing and racial profiling.”

Sloly added that the CPE team is very experienced – having worked with large urban police services across the United States. The Deputy also said the reason CPE was chosen was because of their policy of not taking any money from police services to conduct their research – the CPE would also own all the data it collects over the next year and has no legal obligation to hand it over or even show to the Service.

“This is as independent and third-party as we can get,” said Sloly, on the Service’s sincerity in tackling the issue of fair policing in Toronto. 

Goff, in defining the role of his work with the police and community, said that it would revolve around an evidence-based approach. “As it turns out, we need data integration for the revolution,” said Goff to the audience. He said his goal was to create a “justice GPS” one that “sets out the map and the fastest, most-efficient route from point A to point justice.” Elaborating on this, Goff explained that the CPE would be using multiple methodologies that would reflect the realities of the community and police that would help chart a path forward.

His emphasis on proper methodology was due to the media using population benchmarking to prove racial bias in policing. Population benchmarking is “literally the textbook definition of the correlation fallacy,” said Goff.  

The mistaken belief is that a correlation between two variables implies that one causes the other. As an example of what population benchmarking is, Goff said it is when you say the minority population of an area is 50% but 80% of the people that police stop are minorities in that area.  – therefore police are racist – because the number of people getting stopped do not represent the demographics of the area. That is an example of population benchmarking that Goff said is “statistically and morally wrong.” Rather he said the above example is one of disparity, not racial discrimination.

That is where politics ends and pragmatic solutions need to begin

Moreover, Goff said population benchmarking does not point towards a direct path of responsibility and accountability to law enforcement because if one imagines there is racism in law enforcement than one must also imagine there “is racial discrimination in health care, employment, education and housing.” All these sets of things have a downstream effect and thus turn up in the criminal justice system “but are not uniquely the fault of law enforcement.” While Dr. Goff highlighted that law enforcement had some responsibility for the disparity we see, we need to question how much of that responsibility was of law enforcement alone. He spoke about larger societal responsibility when it comes to tackling disparity in communities. 

Goff said we needed to be looking at what specific things could be done to lose specific disparities that we find objectionable. “That is where politics ends and pragmatic solutions need to begin,” said Goff.

Data has been used to improve profit, elongate lifespan but it has rarely been set up to be used to enhance social justice – and that is our goal

Deputy Sloly assured the community that, in the next two years, they would be working closely with the community, the same way they did when they wrote the PACER report. “We are not looking for cheerleaders, we are not barring haters, but we are looking for people who can come to the table with deep insight and deep commitment and potential solutions… (who are) willing to stay at the table and contribute.”

In concluding his talk, Goff told the community the goal of his meeting with them was to let them know what the CPE can do, which was to use data as a mean for social justice.  “Data has been used to improve profit, elongate lifespan but it has rarely been set up to be used to enhance social justice – and that is our goal.”

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