One of the most pressing issues when it comes to policing in Ontario is managing an efficient and effective police service in a diverse community. There is no place where this is more evident than in Toronto, which is one of the world's most diverse cities. As a result, the police presence in Toronto and in the rest of Ontario needs to reflect the racial/ethnic and cultural values of its population in order to reduce crime and improve citizens' quality of life.
First: The Facts
Since we are dealing with one of the most culturally and ethnically diverse areas in the world, it helps to start out with some statistics to determine just how much diversity we are talking about. The Greater Toronto Area, for instance, is home to the following racia/ethnicl proportions as of the 2011 Canadian census:
- White: 50.2%
- East Asian: 12.7%
- South Asian: 12.3%
- African-Canadian/Black: 8.5%
- Southeast Asian: 7.0%
- Latin American: 2.8%
- West Asian: 2.0%
- Arab: 1.1%
- Aboriginal and First Nations: .07%
- Other: 1.3%
Toronto residents speak over 160 different languages within the city borders and follow a variety of religions, with a Christian majority followed by significant Islamic, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist and Sikh populations. The fact that Toronto remains one of the safest cities in North America is a testament to the capabilities of its police services.
Effectively policing such a diverse population is challenging because of the cultural and ethnic perspectives of all the different populations that call this area home. When immigrant populations no longer feel like their interests are being served by the police, they tend to form gangs in order to protect themselves. Gangs have a significant presence in Ontario, with a diverse racial/ethnic makeup of their own:
- African-Canadian/Black: 36%
- White: 21%
- Latino/Hispanic: 6%
- East Asian: 8%
- Middle Eastern/Arabic: 4%
- First Nations: 4%
As the data clearly shows, there is an inordinately large amount of African-Canadian gang activity compared to the actual population of African-Canadians in the area. Better policing by better-trained and more communicative police services would reduce that number considerably, making diversity training a very important part of the police curriculum.
Policing in Diverse Communities Effectively
Meeting the challenges a diverse community presents requires a very nuanced approach to police work. Key to this effort is building trust with culturally diverse communities through knowledge, respect, cooperation, and communication:
- Gain Knowledge—There is no way to substitute being aware of the cultural values of the community you are maintaining law and order in. Through knowledge of the customs and traditions of your community, you can effectively resolve conflicts and reduce crime while building rapport and trust with its key members.
- Show Respect—A police officer who shows respect, even to known offenders, often gets respect back. This is a critical step towards building bridges between communities, providing citizens with the tools for resolving conflicts without resorting to violence, and helping police solve cases using local information.
- Cooperate—Police officers are as much members of the communities they work in as is anyone else. By cooperating with citizens, officers build lasting relationships that increase their trust in the institution designed to help them maintain law and order. This goes hand-in-hand with communication, especially in immigrant communities where officers may rely on locals for language translation.
- Communicate—More often than not, the best way to resolve a conflict is through effective communication. Achieving this in a diverse population can be challenging, especially in neighborhoods where neither English nor French are widely spoken. In this case, officers need to cooperate with key members of the community in order to make sure that conflict resolution is achieved, that community members understand and that peace is kept.
A diverse police service is better equipped to handle the needs of a diverse population due to its ability to build trust through these four methods, but any individual officer can empower his or herself to use these tips in order to better police such a population.
Once trust between the police and a community is gained, maintaining peace and keeping order becomes much easier. Fully developing the unique talents of each peace officer towards greater knowledge, more respect, deeper cooperation and more communication is an ongoing task for Ontario police services, and remains a priority as the population diversifies further.