COVERUsing Data DifferentlyLessons learned from Toronto’s Race- and Identity-based Data Collection StrategyBy Dr. Mihaela Dinca-Panaitescu, Dr. Mai Phan and Colin Stairs Policing professionals and leaders know that meaningful and robust data is needed to identify, understand and address systemic issues that affect community safety and police-community relationships. This includes collecting, using and reporting race- and identity-based data to support strategies and action plans that advance equity in policing, and transparency and accountability to the public.In June 2022, the Toronto Police Service publicly released1 the 2020 Use of Force and Strip Search Report on the disparate impacts of use-offorce and strip searches. The findings reflect an innovative approach to data, including a hypothesis-driven process that explored questions generated by engagements with frontline members and a Community Advisory Panel. This approach provided a solution-oriented perspective that enabled us to put forward action items to address the outcomes of the report.The Toronto Police Services Board approved its Race-Based Data Collection, Analysis, and Public Reporting Policy (Policy) on September 19, 2019, and the service began the critical task of reaching out to engage with internal and external stakeholders on a comprehensive strategy to implement the policy in a measured way. The service went beyond what was mandated by the Province’s Anti-Racism Act and the Board policy (i.e., race data collected through use-of-force) by including strip searches in Phase 1 of the strategy. A phased implementation approach allows the service to address the findings in priority police interactions, learn from our efforts and make continuous improvements:• Phase 1 – Use-of-force reports and strip searches• Phase 2 – Arrests, youth diversions and apprehensions (mental health and child protection)Race- and identity-based data is central to helping achieve the goal of eliminating racial bias and promoting fair and non-discriminatory policing services in Toronto. The strategy represents an integral part of the service’s commitment to equity, transparency and accountability.The public, including key stakeholders and affected communities, should have confidence in how the data is collected, used, protected and analyzed, and who is accountable for the strategy. Before any data was collected and used, foundational pieces were put in place:Strong leadership: An All-Of-Command Governance structure demonstrated the service’s commitment to race-based data efforts and addressing systemic barriers. A Governance Committee provided leadership and direction to coordinate operations, dedicate resources, make decisions and hold accountability for all aspects of the strategy. Chaired by Deputy Chiefs and sponsored by the Chief, the Governance Committee consisted of senior leaders from across the organization with decision-making authority over the five key areas of the strategy: Change Management/ Internal Engagement, Training, Data Management & Analysis, Communications and Community Engagement & Partnerships.Service-wide collaboration & embedded team of subject matter experts: The strategy relied on collaboration between teams of civilian and uniform members with operational and systems expertise from areas across the service. Recognizing that the strategy is complex, politically sensitive and requires innovative approaches, there is a team of subject matter experts in roles within the Equity, Inclusion and Human Rights (EIHR) Unit to lead and support implementation of the strategy.Enabling transparency & accountability: The strategy grounds its approach in principles of transparency and accountability. A Community Advisory Panel (CAP) and an independent review represents two unique mechanisms to bring these principles to life. The CAP is composed of 12 diverse residents of Toronto who bring expertise in community organizing, research and social services. 2The panel acts as a sounding board to advise on data analysis, interpretation and visualization; communication and engagement approaches; and developing action plans. We commissioned two academics with expertise in human rights and race-based data to provide an independent review of the work and make recommendations to the Board on further improvements to the analysis process, engagement practices and reporting. 3Principle-based Analysis Framework: Prior to accessing the data, we developed a principle-based framework to guide how the data is analyzed. This framework articulated underlying assumptions, key concepts and methods for conducting meaningful analyses. Hypotheses rooted in lived experience and operational expertise were co-developed with CAP and service members. This process allowed us to address misconceptions surrounding data, identify gaps in the data and understand the limitations of quantitative methods to answer certain questions. An innovative multiple-benchmarking approach was introduced to determine if there are different outcomes in police interactions and where there could be opportunities to reduce disparate outcomes. Moving forward, this approach will help us to continue to innovate in areas that are important to our members and diverse communities.Modernizing technology and information systems for more robust analyses: Collecting and using administrative data for new purposes creates many challenges, but also provides opportunities to look at data in different ways, and for greater understanding. We undertook a comprehensive assessment of our current information systems and practices, identified needs and gaps and leveraged more of our data than before. Internal and external engagements throughout the strategy’s implementation: The strategy will only succeed by meaningfully engaging service and community members. We established a liaison program, led by senior leaders, with uniform and civilian members assigned in each unit and division. Liaisons acted as peer supports and resources, as conduits to the EIHR team and provided important frontline perspectives. At the outset of the strategy in 2019, we reached out to communities across the city through engagements to raise awareness and gather feedback about priorities, concerns and community members’ involvement in the process. 4 We are committed to continuing engagement as we introduce other policing interactions in Phase 2 of the strategy.Lessons Learned from TPS’s Experience The call for race-based data collection and transparent reporting has been growing over the past 30 years. However, there is strong mistrust and concern that the data will be collected inappropriately and used and reported in ways that will continue to perpetuate systemic inequities rather than bring about meaningful change. This mistrust is also reflected in how service members felt about the findings. The key lessons learned pointed to the need to continue to work on building trust and understanding, to involve more people in our processes and to engage more people through compelling narratives of change.Supporting Informed Dialogue To bridge the gap in understanding and trust inherent with any race and identity-based data initiative, resources and tools are needed for meaningful engagement. For example, it was necessary to help the public understand the complexities of policing and map out the pathways and pivotal decision points that lead to an outcome such as a strip search or use-of-force. In addition, we published technical reports and released open data and analytics through the TPS Public Safety Data Portal5. Service members benefitted from training to understand communities’ experiences with policing and the historical and communal impacts that help make sense of the collective and policing responsibilities that can address disparate outcomes. In 2023, the TPS College will pilot a five-day “Fair and Unbiased Policing” program for all new recruits. This program includes a specific module focused on the RBDC Strategy and the significance of its findings.Open, Regular and Inclusive Engagements about Data and Analyses We learned from our experience developing and executing a comprehensive and thoughtful communications plan leading up to the public release and afterwards.6 Communities and our members expressed the need for more open and regular engagements about the strategy to understand what we are doing and why. We are revisiting how to be more open, reach more people, be even more transparent throughout the process and articulate how the strategy will make a difference.INTERPRETING AND MAKING SENSE OF WHERE WE ARE DOING WELL AND WHERE WE ARE NOT HELPS US TO USE OUR RESOURCES EFFECTIVELYRobust and Careful Data Analyses Can Tell Positive Stories and Point to Areas of Focus Communicating positive findings is as important as identifying areas for focused attention. For example, our analysis reinforced the effectiveness of policy and procedural changes to reduce racial disparities in strip searches. We also found that in certain situations, such as responding to weapons and homicide-related incidents, there were very little to no racial disproportionalities in use-offorce. Interpreting and making sense of where we are doing well and where we are not helps us to use our resources effectively, communicate constructively, work with sector-specific stakeholders and focus on the relevant policies, procedures and training to address racial disparities. This requires thoughtful narratives that resonate with our members and communities to come up with effective, targeted solutions together.The strategy does not end with data collection and analysis – it is a continuous model for evidence-driven action and change. The service has identified 38 action items to reduce disparate outcomes in use-of-force and strip searches and has committed to working together with communities and our members to refine these actions and identify additional areas of improvement. Between October 2022 and April 2023, seven community town halls held throughout Toronto provided the opportunity to listen to community members share their perspectives and experiences and provide feedback on the 38 action items.7In significant ways, the Toronto Police Service took a different path with race- and identity-based data that reflects the service’s and communities’ needs. The challenge for all police services in Ontario will be to align our efforts and use best practices that promote more effective and fair policing across the province and within our specific communities.The Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police is in a unique position to support consistency in race and identity-based data collection, while respecting the unique needs of the diverse police services in the province. An RBDC Working Group will be an effective table to develop a shared framework grounded on subject matter and policing expertise, best practices, and lessons learned on the ground. We look forward to being a part of that effort.Mihaela Dinca-Panaitescu is a senior researcher with the Equity, Inclusion & Human Rights Unit, Toronto Police Service. Dr. Mai Phan is a data expert consultant with Toronto Police Service. She has over 20 years of experience teaching, researching, developing and leading initiatives to address systemic barriers and promote inclusive practices and policies in public sector organizations. Colin Stairs was appointed as the first Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the Toronto Police Service on March 24, 2020 and oversees the Information Management and Information Technology Services pillars. 1. You can find the detailed reports, videos, and action plan at: To see who the members of the CAP are, visit See the Independent Assessment here: 4. Check out the report from our early engagement efforts ‘In Communities’ Words’ that summarizes community feedback: Visit the Service’s Public Safety Data Portal page for Race and Identity-based Data Strategy open data, open analytics and documentation:  6. See coverage of our communications efforts: 7. Details on the town halls, YouTube links for virtual participation and survey link at: