Participatory mapping project reveals that one in three citizens believe their appearance or identity contributed to their stop by the police.
STOPMTL.ca aims to produce quantitative data on the social and spatial distribution of police stops in urban areas. ADOBE STOCK
The first research report from STOPMTL.ca, a participatory mapping project of police stop experiences, presents preliminary data contributed by citizens of Montreal. Launched in 2021 by a team from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), McGill University, Concordia University and University College London, this unique platform aims to produce quantitative data on the social and spatial distribution of police stops in urban areas.
The objective is to provide a more accurate picture of police stops in the Quebec metropolis. Previous studies have shown that only 5 to 20% of stops are recorded by the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal (SPVM). Moreover, the data that is being produced is available to the general public.
“We see that a wide variety of stop experiences have been reported on our platform. Overall, the data is consistent with what the SPVM found in its own analyses,” says the project’s principal investigator, Carolyn Côté-Lussier, a professor specializing in criminology and urban studies at INRS and a researcher at the International Centre for Comparative Criminology.
The project also provides important new insight into how citizens perceive their police stop experience. Indeed, the people who used STOPMTL.ca were able to identify the reasons that, according to them, led to their stop. In total, 30% of stops were perceived as being due to an individual’s appearance or identity.
“This result confirms concerns about social and racial profiling that have been repeatedly expressed by the public and suggested by the SPVM data. But it is the first time we have quantitative data suggesting that the people who are stopped perceive their stop as discriminatory.”Professor Carolyn Côté-Lussier
While a significant proportion (41%) of those who participated in the project considered their stop to be justified, the results show that an equally significant proportion (43%) of individuals considered it to be unjustified.
According to the research team, this suggests that the project was successful in measuring a wide range of police stop experiences. In addition, the data suggest a considerable need to improve the perception of the justification of police stops. Future analyses are planned to better identify the circumstances surrounding the perception of a stop as being justified or unjustified.
“Perceiving a police officer as having acted justifiably during the stop has an impact on the trust that individuals subsequently place in the police,” says Carolyn Côté-Lussier.
74 % are men;
55 % identify as white;
17 % identify as black;
24 % identify with another racialized identity;
1 % identify as having an Indigenous identity;
70 % identify as heterosexual;
18 % identify as having an LGBTQ2+ sexual identity;
27 % of those stopped are between the ages of 19 and 24.
The team states that the portrait of people who report having been stopped on STOPMTL.ca echoes that observed in an independent research report commissioned by the SPVM (2019). It reported an over-representation of young people and black people, and an under-representation of white people, among those stopped.
The results presented by STOPMTL.ca also suggest that nearly one in five (18%) of those who reported being stopped identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual. In 2018, Statistics Canada estimated that LGBTQ2+ people made up 4% of the Canadian population. The finding that members of this community appear to be overrepresented among those stopped is consistent with trends observed in other cities.
On the other hand, the results suggest that most police stops were reported to have taken place in the boroughs of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce (13%) and Ville-Marie (12%), followed by the Plateau-Mont-Royal (8%), Sud-Ouest (8%), Montréal-Nord (7%) and Villeray—Saint-Michel—Parc-Extension (7%).
“We expected these results since these are the boroughs with the highest number of stops recorded by the SPVM. We are glad that the borough councillors of Côte-des-Neiges and NDG collaborated with the project and mobilized their residents to contribute to the project,” explains Professor Côté-Lussier.
According to the research team, a second round of mobilization of the population is necessary to collect more data. This will make it possible to follow the evolution of people’s perception of the SPVM’s efforts to change its approach to conducting police stops.
“We hope that more data will give us a better idea of the concentration of stops around certain locations, such as subway stations or schools,” explains Myrna Lashley, co-investigator of the project and professor of transcultural psychology at McGill University.
She points out that the spatial concentration of police stops could be detrimental to the health and well-being of communities. The same conclusions could apply in the case of a concentration of stops according to individuals’ social profile (age, gender identity, racial or ethnic identity, etc.).
The team is currently conducting analyses to validate and have a better understanding of the data, including looking at correlations with the prevalence of crimes and neighbourhood characteristics.
“We encourage all people who have been stopped by the SPVM and who have been asked who they were or where they were going, but who were not charged, arrested or fined, to share their experience on the STOPMTL.ca website.”Carolyn Côté-Lussier
The research team reminds us that the participation of Montrealers is crucial to the success of this project, since the data will benefit both “research and the well-being of the community at large”. Indeed, STOPMTL.ca is working with several community organizations in Montreal and Quebec.
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