The Toronto Police Service will soon start tracking the race of citizens who are involved in select encounters with officers as part of a new policy aimed at helping the service "confront issues of systematic bias."

The Toronto Police Services board voted in favour of a new race-based data collection policy during a meeting today.

The policy will initially see the service track the race of citizens involved in the use of force incidents, however, it will eventually be expanded to cover a wider list of interactions.

It will require that the data be posted publicly annually. The policy also requires the TPS to enter into a partnership with an independent academic institution or other organization that will conduct its own analysis of it and report back to the board on its findings.

"Over the past several years, the board, along with the service, has been committed to working hard to confront issues of systematic bias in a variety of ways and with a variety of partners. However, we recognize that we cannot fully understand or change what we do not measure. As a result, the collection analysis, and public reporting of race-based data is critical to meaningful and effective organizational change," a staff report on the new policy states.

The policy, which will go into effect in 2020, fulfills one of the key recommendations in a 2018 interim report from the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which found that black people in Toronto are 3.6 times more likely than a white person to be involved in a use of force investigation and nearly 20 times as likely to be shot and killed by police.

The report revealed that despite making up just 8.8 per cent of Toronto's population, black people made up 28.8 per cent of police use of force cases and 61.5 per cent of use of force cases resulting in the death of a civilian that were studied.

The authors of the report, however, noted that they could only study cases probed by the Special Investigations Unit, which is an arms-length agency that generally only steps in when there is serious injury or death.

"Despite repeated calls for the TPS and TPSB to collect and report on race-based data, current TPS data systems are generally not set up to determine the impact of race," they wrote.

Data won't be used to identify officers

The new policy will rely on service members' perception of a race at first, but there are plans to eventually allow citizens to self-identify their race as part of the data collection.

The staff report says that while the data will not be used to identify individual service members, it will "enable the identification of trends," which could contribute to "professional development and organizational change."

"We have long heard from many members of the public that they want to see the collection of race-based data in police interactions to enhance accountability, transparency and oversight; to identify potential systematic bias and to preserve individuals and community dignity, among other objectives," the staff report notes. "If approved, this policy will lead to the establishment of service procedures that will ensure that data is collected in a consistent, transparent and meaningful manner to inform evidence-based decision making and public accountability."

The Toronto Police Service has about 1,500 use of force incidents annually. Use of force incidents can include any instance in which there is a "demonstrated force presence," including times where police officers take out their firearm or conducted energy weapon (CEW) without actually using it on a subject.

Police Chief Mark Saunders will be required to update the board on his plans for the implementation of the first phase of the policy at their meeting in December.

"This is a pivotal point in the history of the Toronto Police Service," a spokesperson for Saunders said in a statement.

"The purpose of the new policy, and our strategy, is to identify, to monitor, and to eliminate potential systemic racism."

The spokesperson said the policy will allow the service "to be informed, to recognize trends, and to develop training and procedures to best equip our officers to do their jobs safely."

Toronto Mayor John Tory said the policy is a step forward.

"It is something that's going to increase transparency," said Tory. "It is something that's going to increase accountability, and it is something that is going to lead to more respect and trust."

He said it will provide objective data that will be objectively analyzed.

Tory said the city and police service are prepared to address the problems that will be identified from the data.