Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

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. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Racial Profiling by Canadian Police?

A study widely reported in Canada this week indicated that the police in Kingston, Ontario, are more likely to pull over, stop, or detain blacks and aboriginals than whites, Asians, or other minorities -- in much larger percentages than blacks and aboriginals make up society.

Kingston police stop a disproportionate number of young black men and aboriginal men, according to findings released on Thursday from the first racial profiling study done in Canada.

The report said police in this mostly white Eastern Ontario city were 3.5 times as likely to stop a black person as a Caucasian, and 1.4 times more likely to stop an aboriginal than a white person.

But the report also found that police were less likely to stop other minorities such as Asians or South Asians.
The study was done by Scott Worley, a criminologist at the University of Toronto. My guess is that his training was in socioonomology. As Martin Loney pointed out in the National Post [May 30, Issues and Ideas section, page 18, $ required; thanks to Jack for the information],

The data indicate a wide variance in “stop rates” — by gender as well as race. Males are some three times as likely to be stopped as females, white males more likely to be stopped than black females. Is this evidence of “gender profiling”? Kingstonians in the 15-24 year range are seven times more likely to be stopped than those over 55. Age profiling? Whites are two and a half times more likely to be stopped than Asians. Racial profiling again? And does this mean we should we demand that Asians be stopped more by the police?

... if we are to determine whether police do engage in discriminatory law enforcement, we need to be able to compare intervention rates to a given target group’s involvement in illegal activity. We know that young males commit more offences than young females, the young more
than the old. Common sense indicates this will be reflected in policing behaviour. Could the ethnic data hold similar explanations?

The 1995 Ontario report on discrimination in the criminal justice system contained some helpful data. Black remand rates on drug trafficking and importing charges were fully 27 times higher than white remand rates; remand rates on weapons charges nine times higher.
Unfortunately, if young males or blacks or aboriginals commit more crimes, it makes good sense for police to target them.

As Ron Laffin says on the same page of the National Post,
... Crimestoppers posted photos of the top 20 most wanted criminals in Toronto on its Web site. A majority were young black men. A similarly high ratio may be observed in many of Toronto’s detention centres. Yet black people make up only 8% of Toronto’s population. That would mean black men make up approximately half that, or 4%, and young black men in their late teens and 20s — the prime criminal demographic — a small fraction of that figure. Why should the police be apologizing for focusing their attention on the tiny fraction of residents who perpetrate most of the worst incidences of violent crime?
All this said, it is still the case that the vast majority of black Canadians are law-abiding citizens. It is a terrible thing that they have to endure disproportionate scrutiny from the police. As individuals, they certainly don’t deserve it.

But ultimately, the priority of police officers is to protect our cities, not our feelings. And I am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt. Day after day, night after night, in the housing projects, the alleys, the booze cans and the courts, they see the realities that many media sources systematically hide from us.
Profiling can be sensible and efficient. That does not, however, justify discrimination in the application of the process and the law, as might very well have occurred in this case.
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