HALIFAX – Data released by the Halifax Regional Police shows a higher likelihood that a black person will be stopped by officers – three times as likely as a white person.
The numbers show that over the past five years, 43,931 people have been street checked by Halifax Regional Police officers. Of that, 30,678 were white people – a demographic which makes up about 91 per cent of the Halifax population.
Meantime the next most oft-checked group is black people at 8,838 checks – 20 per cent of the checks for a group that makes up less than 4 per cent of the population.
“Obviously the disproportionality is big in that data and it’s a concern – no matter how you cut it, disproportionality remains in the data,” said HRP Research Coordinator Dr. Chris Giocamontonio. “All the ways we could try to explain why police officers would check a person – prior criminal history, location, time of day – there is explanatory value to all of those factors before you get to ethnicity, but at the end of it, you still find disproportionality towards black people, young people, men and people classed in the data as Arab or West Asian.”
While Giocamontonio is concerned by the numbers, he was most surprised to see the consistency of the findings – that it cannot be blamed on a single outlying factor.
“It’s not one year skewing the data, it’s not one location skewing the data, it’s not one time of day or one particular group in one area of town,” he said. “The disproportionality issue holds up across Halifax.”
None of this is concrete evidence that street checks are inherently biased, according to Giocamontonio. He will be analyzing the data to determine if that is the case, or if it is a wider issue within the system.
“Whether street checking is simply symptomatic of wider issues – that should be a concern to everyone – or whether it itself is a practice exhibiting bias is a question we still have to answer through the data.”