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Fewer street checks in Halifax, but black people still more likely to be stopped

Criminology professor says police need protocols to stop unchecked bias' from "creeping in"
000000-halifax regional police headquarters
Halifax Regional Police headquarters ( file photo)

Halifax Regional Police are performing fewer street checks, but new numbers show that visible minorities are still more likely to be stopped by an officer.

Street checks have decreased by 28 per cent between 2017 and 2018. This has been on a continuous decline since 2012. 

Despite the drop, analysis of the data found black people were four times more likely than white people to be street checked in 2017 and 2018. 

Chair of Criminology at the University of Ottawa, Michael Kempa, says the numbers are likely higher. 

"That four to one ratio is, if anything, underestimating whatever the number might actually be. So it could be a little higher, but it's at least four," he said in an interview with NEWS 95.7's Todd Veinotte. 

"The total number of street checks have been falling the last couple of years. What I interpret from that is the cops generally are getting reluctant to interact with members of the public," he said. 

He says as the public becomes more aware of their rights, a "bystander affect" is occurring in police. 

"They're so used to now being complained against for more or less anything that they might do, and everybody's got a cellphone and everybody's filming them...They're saying unless there's really an emergency that justifies me getting involved. I'm not going to do anything," he said. 

Kempa says while the numbers and ratios are high, they're unfortunately typical and consistent across the country.

He says this is due to implicit and often unchecked bias'.

"When they do stop people to collect information, their bias is still creeping in. They're still targeting black people, people of east Asian decent, and aboriginals," he said, 

While some might argue against this and say policing high concentration areas of people will result in high concentrations of minorities, Kempa says the numbers just don't back that up. 

"If you consider that the total population of most of our urban centres of black people, it's certainly not anywhere near four to one. It's typically the other way around," he said. 

In Halifax the black population is around 15 per cent, with some neighbourhoods getting up to 25 to 30 per cent. 

"I don't care what argument you're making of urban concentration or where crime may be occurring, that's still too high to explain that," he said.  

He thinks a solution would be creating policies and protocols for police to check their racial bias' before performing a street check, such as a list of questions to ask yourself, and a way to separate suspicious situations from personal characteristics. 

"You've got to identify the biases, become aware of them, and train them out," he said. 

Danielle McCreadie

About the Author: Danielle McCreadie

Danielle spent a year freelancing for various publications in Halifax and did a brief stint at before making the move to radio.
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