Peel Regional Police used less force on Black people last year compared to 2020, but still did so 3.2 times more than Black people's share of the population, new data shows.
Police used force against 289 Black people in 2021 compared to 345 the year before, signalling a 16 per cent drop, according to an annual use of force report presented to Peel's police services board Friday.
However, Black people make up less than 10 per cent of Peel Region's total population, according to the latest census figures from Statistics Canada, dated 2016. The group accounted for 32 per cent of all use of force reports — the highest out of seven different racial groups including white, East and Southeast Asian, South Asian, Middle Eastern, Latino and Indigenous.
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah, a professor at the University of Toronto working with Peel police change training and policy, says the fact that Black people are three times more likely than their representation in the general population to be subject to use of force signals that "something needs to be done".
In 2020, Peel police were thrust into the spotlight after the high-profile deaths of multiple Black people and people of colour in crisis including Jamal Francique, D'Andre Campbell and Ejaz Choudry. That was fuelled further by the global Black Lives Matter movement following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
CBC News planned to interview Peel Regional Police Supt. Dirk Niles on Friday, however the force cancelled the interview approximately 30 minutes before it was set to begin.
The report concedes that the collection of race-based use of force data in its current form "severely limits" the ability to analyze whether certain police procedures may be contributing to "disproportionalities or disparities in relation to race."
"The current form does however accurately capture a great deal of information about police-public interactions," it reads.
Use of force down in most groups
Data shows the total count of use of force applications dropped from 1,114 in 2020 to 940 in 2021, representing a 15 per cent decrease.
All groups except for East and Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern and Indigenous groups showed a decrease in use of force incidents — police attributed the increase in force against people of Middle Eastern and Indigenous descent to multiple reports made for the same individual.
Police can use varying types of force, ranging from conducted energy weapons (better known as Tasers) and physical control, to pepper spray and firearms.
Out of 1,121 use of force applications, Peel police used most commonly used Tasers, physical control and firearms.
Last year, Peel police drew Tasers the most at 438 times — representing a six per cent increase from 2020 — and used them about 52 per cent of the time. Police used physical force 304 times — about a 14 per cent increase from 2020.
Police drew firearms 338 times and intentionally discharged 12 times in 2021, but say 10 of those reports involved firing at an animal.
The top three most commonly cited reasons for using force were for arrest, to protect officers and to protect the public.
Police's handling of crisis calls
The report states crisis calls accounted for 6,726, or about two per cent, of total police calls last year. It adds use of force incidents involving someone in crisis decreased slightly from 53 in 2020 to 48 in 2021.
But this lawyer says police have no business handling crisis calls at all. Rick Frank helped represent the Black Action Defence Committee this spring in an inquest into the 2015 death of Marc Boekwa Diza Ekamba.
Seven years ago, Peel police opened fire after Ekamba stabbed two officers with a kitchen knife and refused to drop it. Advocates have said police intervention would not have been necessary if Ekamba and his family had gotten the mental help they needed.
"The officers repeatedly said, 'We don't see race, I don't see colour' and for me, that goes against what the report shows," said Frank, of the Peel officers who testified.
"The force needs to change that and have the officers recognize this is something we need to change — all of us, individually and collectively."
In 2020, Peel police took on a mandatory Human Rights Focused training strategy developed with the Ontario Human Rights Commission and Owusu-Bempah, the report states, which focuses on "de-escalation, accountability and ensuring the dignity of all members of the community."
The inquest led to 35 broad-reaching recommendations to police forces across Ontario to strengthen training in anti-Black racism, implicit bias and mental health awareness.
When asked to comment on the suggestions, Peel police said they supported a number of recommendations, but also tried to ensure that they were all relevant to the inquest, implementable and would "effect positive change".
Wait and see, researcher says
Owusu-Bempah, the researcher who presented the report alongside Peel police Friday morning, says while the report show progress, it's too early to say just how much.
"While the year-over-year trends are heading in the direction we might want them to head in, we need much, much more data over a longer period of time to be able to signal whether that trend is sustained," said Owusu-Bempah, who specializes in the intersections of race, crime, criminal justice, and policing.
Owusu-Bempah notes it could be a positive sign that there is no major difference in the types of force used against members of different racial groups, or the number of officers involved in occurrences involving members of different races.
"We really need to wait and see how sustained any kind of changes are," said Owusu-Bempah.