The Vicious Circle of Overpolicing and Underprotection

AuthorKent Roach
| 25
The Vicious Circle of Overpolicing and
Since the early s, it has been known that the overpolicing of Indigenous
people went hand in hand with their disproportionate victimization by crime.
e  Manitoba Aboriginal Justice Inquiry examined an act of overpoli-
cing: a proactive police stop of a Cree man, J.J. Harper, that ended in his death.
At the same time, it examined an act of underpolicing and underprotection
that saw the RCMP not lay charges with respect to the  murder of a Cree
woman, Helen Betty Osborne, until more than een years later. e char-
ges only resulted in a murder conviction of one of the four white men who
were widely known in e Pas to have been involved in Osborne’s abduction,
sexual assault, and murder.
In the same year (), the late Jean-Paul Brodeur, the famed Canadian
criminologist, working with colleagues, similarly concluded that the James
Bay Cree “are submitted to overpolicing for minor or petty violations . . . and
suer from underpolicing with regards to being protected from more ser-
ious oences, such as violent assaults against the person (particularly within
the family).” Researchers had similarly observed “too much policing against
the community and not enough policing that answers the needs of the com-
munity” with regard to urban Black people in the United States. Both the
Manitoba Aboriginal Justice Inquiry and the Justice for the Cree study rec-
ommended that Indigenous communities should be allowed to form and
direct their own police services.
26 | Canadian PoliCing: Why and hoW it Must Change
Much of the over- and underpolicing thesis holds true today. Moreover, it has
expanded to include other disadvantaged and intersecting groups, including
women, sexual minorities, Black people, Muslims, the unhoused, and those
in mental health crisis. Nevertheless, some modication is required. I use the
concept of underprotection rather than underpolicing because it is a mistake
to think that better policing alone will stop disproportionate victimization by
crime. As discussed in Chapter , there is increasing recognition of the need
to situate policing within broader strategies to enhance community safety.
e disproportionate victimization of the many disadvantaged groups
examined in this chapter has roots in broader social, economic, political,
and cultural issues. Both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and
the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and
Girls recognized the need for reform well beyond the police to respond to
the disproportionate victimization of Indigenous people. e police alone
cannot reduce the disproportionate victimization of disadvantaged groups.
At the same time, overly aggressive and unnecessary policing can erode trust
between the police and the communities being policed. Such distrust can
lead to those groups not reporting crime to the police or not co-operating
with their investigations. Poisoned relationships make it more dicult for the
police to work eectively with communities to either prevent or solve crimes.
Overpolicing and underprotection are intertwined. ey are both forms
of systemic discrimination. Since the s, Canadian law has understood
that systemic discrimination is dierent from intentional discrimination. e
former is based on the adverse eects of policies and practices on disadvan-
taged groups and implicit and unconscious bias. In her  report Missing
and Missed, Justice Epstein found no evidence of intentional discrimination
in the Toronto police’s missing persons investigations involving gay and
racialized men. At the same time, she found “systemic bias” in the form of the
police assuming that Skandaraj Navaratnam had returned to Sri Lanka even
though he le his new and prized puppy in his apartment. She also found that
the police did not use community resources in Toronto’s gay village eectively,
something that Justice Oppal had earlier found in his inquiry into missing
women in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
It is unrealistic and unfair to the police to think they can stop or solve all
crime. Much crime is never reported to the police. e police work in a system
that involves the courts. ey are not responsible for how prosecutors and

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