Partnering with the Community on Race Based Data Collection

By Stephanie Sayer, Toronto Police Service Published: 11:29 a.m. June 18, 2021

Following the Toronto Police Service’s largest community engagement initiative ever – including 69 events bringing together almost 900 people – the Race Based Data Collection (RBDC) strategy was officially launched in January 2020.

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Deputy Chief Peter Yuen speaks to community members about race-based data collection at a public forum

For both the Service and the Toronto Police Services Board (TPSB), the RBDC Strategy stems from a commitment to reform, and to creating a police service that is accountable, transparent, inclusive and community-focused. 

“We recognized that in order to combat systemic racism, we must first understand it,” said Deputy Chief Peter Yuen, who is leading the RBDC strategy on behalf of the Service. “But we cannot fully understand or change what we do not measure.”

Community engagement is an integral part of the strategy. Knowing that its success would depend on how well the voices and perspectives of diverse communities are heard, a Community Advisory Panel (CAP) was established to work alongside the Service.

“We’ve known from the beginning that in order to get this right, decisions around collecting, storing, analyzing, and sharing this data must be made with the community,” said Deputy Yuen. “The RBDC Community Advisory Panel is crucial in bringing forward diverse perspectives and lived experiences to inform our decision-making around this strategy.”

The CAP, which started meeting monthly in January 2021, is being led by Deputy Yuen on behalf of the Service and two community CAP co-chairs, Apondi J Odhiambo and Gerald Mak.

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Community Advisory Panel Community Co-Chairs Apondi J Odhiambo and Gerald Mak

Ms. Odhiambo is a PhD candidate at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto and Mr. Mak is a strategy manager within the Ontario Public Service. Both are advocates for marginalized communities in Toronto and have strong connections with health, academic and social welfare organizations in the city.

“It is not news that racialized communities experience adverse effects of discriminatory policing policies and practices that generate harmful outcomes, including over-representation in the criminal justice system,” said Ms. Odhiambo. “It is my hope that the CAP will contribute towards the much needed, yet overdue systemic changes in the Toronto Police Service.”

“In order to build stronger trust with the communities we police in, we have to work hard to eliminate any potential systemic racism,” said Mr. Mak. “Initiating the Race-Based Data Collection strategy was the right decision by the TPSB.”

The CAP includes twelve diverse residents in total, particularly from Black, Indigenous and other racialized communities, as well as youth representatives. The members bring experience in community organizing, academia, and social services; and includes four consultants with highly specialized expertise in racial equity and policing. 

"The data generated will allow us to work together in strengthening the Service's policies and programs to ensure that they continue to serve the needs of our diverse city,” said Mr. Mak. “I am extremely proud to work with the community members who stepped up in volunteering their time to help with this important initiative.”

There was immense interest in the CAP, with 319 applications received. The Service’s RBDC team partnered with the Wellesley Institute to develop outreach, recruitment and selection processes. Interviews were then held with 30 applicants.

“The collection of race and identity based data will make visible the disproportionalities, disparities and inequities in TPS policing culture, and inform transformative changes in policies, practices and programming within TPS,” said Ms. Odhiambo.

In January 2020, the Service began Phase 1 of the data collection process by prioritizing the collection and analysis of perception race data in Use of Force incidents and Strip Searches. The Service is currently analyzing that data with the help of the CAP and is working to engage an independent academic or other institution to verify the process and methodology.

As part of systems changes to enable the launch of Phase 1, perceived race data was also collected from a number of key police interactions, including apprehensions, arrests, charges, releases and youth apprehensions. These interactions form Phase 2 of the RBDC Strategy. 

Phase 2 data analysis will begin in January 2022. The Service continues to assess new and existing sources of data to expand existing phases or launch future phases of work.  

The CAP is one example of the broad consultations taking place across the Service with community stakeholders – which are instrumental in ensuring transparency and accountability. As the Service continues to make progress in implementing comprehensive police reform, they are doing so in collaboration with communities, ensuring their priorities, diverse perspectives and lived experiences are reflected in decision-making.

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