Toronto police, for the first time, have clear civilian direction from the police board on how to carry out interactions with the public after the board passed its first carding policy Thursday night.
“We hope to reestablish the trust with communities,” said board member Marie Molinar.
Officers will now only be able to stop and document an individual, or card them, when there is a public safety purpose that includes investigating or preventing a specific offence, or series of occurrences, according to the tough new policy passed unanimously by the board.
Carding for “unspecified future investigations or because of an “unsupported suspicion” is banned and the interaction can’t be prolonged in the “hope of acquiring the reasonable suspicion to detain.”
The controversial practice can also no longer be used to meet performance quotas or raise an awareness of the police presence in the community.
“This policy is not carved in stone,” said board member Mike Del Grande who said the board will come back in three months and see how it’s working and what needs to be changed.
The move by the board comes after a series of Torstar News Service investigations showed Toronto police card individuals with black and brown skin at disproportionately high rates in what are typically non-criminal encounters. Their personal details, such as name, height, weight, address and more are added to an investigative database.
“We’ve had to go through some difficult and challenging situations,” to bring about this change said Councillor Michael Thompson, who is on the board.
Board Chair Alok Mukherjee said this policy is not so cast in stone that it is forever and that it will be kept living through community surveys that will show whether or not it’s working.
Although some critics of carding called for an outright ban, the board has never considered it.
“There is no realistic way to carry out community policing and deny police the opportunity to initiate conversations with members of the public,” said lawyer Frank Addario, who was hired by the board in November to craft the policy.
Board members did, however, delete a controversial clause from the draft policy after listening carefully to a number of critics who said the wording would open the door to abuse.
That clause allowed carding, under the heading public safety purpose, when it was being used to collect “intelligence relating directly to an identifiable, systemic, criminal problem and pursuant to a service or Division-approved initiative.”
Lawyer Peter Rosenthal argued the clause would allow officers with “approved initiatives” such as the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy to continue to card even if they weren’t investigating a specific offence.
The TAVIS summer initiative begins next month and Mukherjee has been determined to get the policy in place before then. The Torstar News Service investigation found the unit’s officers card at the highest rates.
“Do not pass this policy with that clause because it ratifies TAVIS,” said Rosenthal.
The board was concerned that removing the clause would impede drug or guns and gangs investigations, but Rosenthal said the fears weren’t justified.
Rosenthal said legitimately investigating someone who is suspected of carrying a firearm is legal and not the same thing as stopping individuals in a neighbourhood know to have a gun problem.
Hamlin Grange, a former board member, was on hand for what he called a historic board vote.
The board is hopeful the policy will correct the power imbalance between officers and young men with black and brown skin.
Groups such as the Law Union still had concerns the policy didn’t go far enough to protect an individual’s rights.
Howard Morton said officers should have to tell individuals that the carding interaction is voluntary and that they are free to go.
Instead, the policy says police should tell individuals “as much as possible in the circumstances about their right to leave and the reason for the contact.”
The policy was also criticized because it didn’t address the issue of receipts for carding, which police are already giving out after an earlier directive from the board.
But Thompson put forward a motion that was passed by the board that cements receipts and says that they are now a requirement.
Critics of carding should know in the fall whether the policy goes far enough. The policy calls for a review of carding at the end of the summer as well as ongoing annual reviews.
The board will come back with a report on Oct. 24.