In 2020, according to an analysis of the agency’s data, the Ottawa police disproportionately used violence against black people, people from the Middle East and indigenous peoples.
The agency has long tracked data on the use of violence, but 2020 was the first year to also collect the race of those involved in incidents of violence.
The use of force data showed that in 2020 the Ottawa Police Department received 220,700 calls for which the police were present, and that the officers made more than 8,000 arrests, using force 348 times against 427 people.
That data showed that black and Middle Eastern people were more likely to use force against them by officers.
Individuals who were considered black were 4.8 times more likely to use violence against them than what would be expected given their proportion of the population, said Lorne Foster, a professor in York University’s School of Public Policy and Administration. and one of two investigators commissioned by the OPS to analyze and report on the data. Middle Easterners were 2.4 times more likely to use violence against them.
Indigenous people were also overrepresented in the data on the use of force — with 1.8 percent more likely to use violence on them — but the researchers cautioned that there were statistically few instances of violence against Indigenous people, so even a few cases may skew the number.
White people, on the other hand, were underrepresented in the data.
“The numbers are significantly disproportionate, let’s put it this way,” said Les Jacobs, a professor and vice president of research and innovation at Ontario Tech University who worked with Foster on the data. Some of the disparity in the numbers can be attributed to implicit or explicit bias among police officers, Jacobs said.
Foster and Jacobs presented their findings Thursday to the policy and governance committee of the Ottawa Police Services Board. Their full report will be provided to the board later this month.
Steve Bell, the acting head of the OPS, said the data was consistent with other studies, such as collecting race data from traffic stops, which showed a similar difference in the number of black and Middle Eastern drivers detained by Ottawa police. . The service, he said, had to work to eliminate those inequalities.
“We are happy with this data. We’re not happy with where the data is,” Bell says. “This is identifying a problem in the police force, in our society, that we need to address and that’s where our commitment is.”
OPS members are undergoing training on cultural awareness, systemic racism, anti-black racism and anti-indigenous racism, and the agency will soon hire an analyst dedicated to reviewing the data, Bell told the policy and governance committee.
“We want to act on it,” Eli El-Chantiry, the chairman of the board, said of the data. “Our goal, as far as we can, is to build that trust with our community. … We need to work with our partners. We need to understand some of the solutions and needs, it’s not just a police problem.”
El-Chantiry cited the need for housing and social services as key elements to work with the police to provide a holistic safety model for the Ottawa community.
Foster and Jacobs mentioned the need for more data. Currently, the service races on its use of force forms, which are completed after each incident of violence, but not on other information such as gender, location, and more details about calls for service. Those insights would be helpful to get a better idea of when and why officers use force and to find solutions, the researchers say.
Rep. Robin Browne, the co-lead of the 613-819 Black Hub, said he was not surprised by the disparity in the race and accused the police and administration of irresponsibly buying new stun guns for the service before taking into account the new data.
“Now we have a report showing that these guys are using disproportionate violence against black and racialized men; we can surmise that we will see those Tasers show up,” he said.
More than half of the 348 recorded incidents of violence in 2020 involved an officer drawing his service weapon or firing a guided energy weapon.
Officers used force 93 times on calls with weapons, 50 times on calls for “malfunctions”, 30 times on calls for suspicious activity, 36 times on warrants and 40 times on calls for a mental health incident.
No cops used deadly force in 2020, the force use data shows. Although officers fired their firearms 23 times, all of those involved animals.