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NPD arrest data criticized in provincial report from B.C. Office of the Human Rights Commissioner

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
December 29th, 2021

Indigenous and black people are ‘significantly over-represented in Nelson Police arrest data’ says a provincial report looking at racial profiling in Nelson and four other B.C. communities.

The Nelson Police Department (NPD) provided the B.C. Office of the Human Rights Commissioner (BCOHRC) with data on 1,687 arrest incidents that took place between 2019 and 2020, along with police departments from Vancouver, Duncan, Surrey and Prince George. Offender race was available in 1,617 of the Nelson cases.

“The data indicates that both Indigenous and Black people are significantly over-represented in Nelson Police arrest data,” noted BCOHRC Kasari Govender in her recently released 295-page submission, Equity is safer: Human rights considerations for policing reform in British Columbia, to the Special Committee on Reforming the Police Act.

Although indigenous people comprise 5.4 per cent of the city’s population they made up over 10 per cent (10.3) of all NPD arrests, the report found.

“In other words, indigenous people are 1.9 times more likely to appear in NPD arrest data than their presence in the general population would predict,” Govender wrote in the report.

Nearly the same percentage was found for black people, with a representation of 1.5 per cent of all arrests despite only making up .7 per cent of the city’s population.

The data was analyzed by Professor Scot Wortley of the Criminal Justice department at University of Toronto – St. George Campus, and resulted in a list of 29 recommendations for policing across the province.

Contextually speaking

Although the NPD did not dispute the data cited in the report, it asserted in a response to the report — released at its last NPD board meeting in December — that important context was missing in interpreting that data that resulted in misinformation.

With such a small data size and population in Nelson — compared to larger centres such as Vancouver — people who have been arrested several times can alter the data for the racial groups to which they belong.

“The results reveal that controlling for the impact of unique individuals significantly reduces observed racial disparities,” the response contended. “Incidents involving indigenous people drops from 10.3 per cent to 4.7 per cent after controlling for individuals who were arrested on multiple occasions.”

In addition, the percentage of black people involved in NPD arrests goes from 1.5 per cent to 0.8 per cent.

The BCOHRC report supported the notion, when the effects of multiple arrests of the same person were eliminated.

“The results reveal that controlling for the impact of unique individuals significantly reduces observed racial disparities,” the report read.

In re-calculating the data and controlling for people who were arrested on multiple occasions, NPD arrest incidents involving indigenous people dropped from 10.3 per cent to 4.7 per cent.

“Thus, after counting unique individuals only once, indigenous people become under-represented in NPD arrest statistics.”

The arrests and calls for service for the NPD are not internally driven either, with nearly 90 per cent of all policing activities reactive and arising from “complaints and requests for assistance by the public and other partner agencies,” with mental health and social services calling on police to remove (and arrest) difficult people.

Arrests are not always negative or punitive in nature, the NPD responded, and are often used to remove an individual from a situation “that is potentially hazardous to themselves and others.”

Root of the real problem

The data doesn’t point toward answers contained in the recommendations, the NPD response noted, but within the bigger picture.

“Due to socio-economic pressures, and systemic racism in all of society, Indigenous and other marginalized groups are also overrepresented in the health care system and emergency room visits,” the NPD response pointed out.

Those services contain the same over-representation as in police services, but there is no one blaming medical or hospital staff for the discrepancy, the response contended.

“This is a societal issue and simple ‘band-aid’ solutions forcing police to change how certain people are dealt with rather than addressing the driving factors does nothing to solve the real problem, to the detriment of the very people this study intends to help.

“We all need to do a better job of addressing systemic issues that drive specific segments of our society into mental health, addictions, homelessness situations, resulting in higher involvement in criminal activity to survive.”

Source: BC Human Rights Commission Report on Policing, response by NPD

Even so, in writing to the Nelson Police Board on Dec. 2, Sheri Walsh, on behalf of West Kootenay People for Racial Justice (WKPRJ), said the WKPRJ members were “deeply concerned” about the report findings.

The letter noted that “black people are grossly over-represented in mental health incidents involving the Nelson Police Department,” while Asians and South Asians were “significantly under-represented” in arrest and mental health statistics.

“While we are aware that there is a process underway to develop your Diversity Advisory Committee and Terms of Reference for that future committee, we feel that this report shows an urgent and immediate need to address these systemic findings,” she wrote.

Walsh also pointed out that indigenous and black people were highly over-represented in arrest incidents in which charges were recommended by the police but rejected by the Crown, “which could suggest that many of these represented unnecessary, ‘low quality’ arrests involving weak evidence and little chance of conviction.”

In addition, she pointed out that theNPD board was underrepresented by people most directly affected by police activities, specifically indigenous women and black people.

Report recommendations

Overall, the report makes 29 recommendations including:

• realizing B.C.’s obligations to indigenous people;
• implementing a human rights-based approach to the collection, use and disclosure of race-based data;
• reforming the practice of street checks;
• de-tasking the police;
• improving police accountability; and
• reforming police boards and their accountability to the public.

Source: BCOHRC report

Gender and arrests

• Men were identified as the offenders in 81.6 per cent of all arrests documented by the NPD between 2019 and 2020.

• Although they represent only 2.6 per cent of Nelson’s population, indigenous males were involved in 9.3 per cent of all arrests conducted by the NPD between 2019 and 2020.

• Despite representing 43.1 per cent of the general population in Nelson, white males were involved in 69.1 per cent of all NPD arrests.

Source: BCOHRC report

De-tasking police

The NPD was not against reducing police contacts in the community.

In fact, the NPD response called for more support in mental health and addictions treatment, career training and development and opportunities.

“Until this happens, many marginalized groups will continue to be overrepresented in police contacts,” the response read.

“Regardless of the source, inequities too often are revealed through the exercise of police power and therefore police bear a significant burden to address them”

– (BCOHRC, page 24)

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