Release of Kingston Speaks Inclusion Project Final Report causes concern

The release of the Kingston Speaks Inclusion Project Final Report has generated controversy after the Kingston Police Force officials waited close to a year before making the report public. Photo by Logan Cadue/Kingstonist.

A long-awaited report looking into ongoing equity, diversity, inclusion, Indigenization, and accessibility (EDIIA or EDI in short) efforts of the Kingston Police Force has finally been made public, showcasing a desire among community members for greater accountability by Kingston Police. The Kingston Speaks Inclusion (KSI) Project Final Report, commissioned by Kingston Police in 2021 through a partnership with Kingston Community Health Centre (KCHC), sought feedback from hundreds of Kingston residents, including those from marginalized and “equity-deserving” groups, about their interactions with Kingston Police and the changes they would like the force to make. 

The report calls on Kingston Police to “engage [in] more equitable and inclusive practices,” including consultations with a “diversity of organizations and community groups across Kingston,” all built around an “accountability framework.” 

According to Roger Romero, program manager at KCHC, Kingston Police first reached out to that organization in an effort to hear directly from members of the community as part of new EDI initiatives. “Kingston Police had just recently hired a new [EDI] officer… and said, ‘We really want to have this conversation about how we can hear the voices of the community,’ because they were realizing that none of this work could happen without meaningful consultation,” Romero explained. 

Romero said he was initially hesitant when Kingston Police first got in touch, but soon realized the two groups might be able to reach common ground. “I [didn’t] know if this [was] going to be doable. [But] we had conversations, we built relationships, and we talked about their goals and their vision… They started [to] kind of convince us that this was a good opportunity to make things right, or a first attempt at making things right.” 

Kingston Police’s promise that the report’s recommendations would be taken seriously was what made Romero and his team agree to be involved. “They said… ‘We’re not taking this report and just letting it collect dust on a shelf. We’re going to put it into action.’ So that’s what we were really excited about, because, for the first time, the police have said they’re going to action it, [and] they’re going to hear the voices,” Romero stated.

Once the two parties signed onto a Memorandum of Understanding [MOU], Romero and the rest of his team got to work connecting with community groups and trying to include as many representatives as possible in the study. He said, “The project started out really well. We ran into some challenges in terms of… finding an opportunity to connect with community members [as I tried to] leverage my own personal relationships, my workplace and professional relationships, to connect with some of these groups, such as the Integrated Care Hub (ICH), and Addiction and Mental Health Services.”

Romero said participants were initially hesitant to get involved: “Working with Kingston Police, people [were] very, very hesitant to speak with me and to us as a group… But we continued to leverage our relationships, to really amplify and echo [Kingston Police’s] sentiment that they were going to make change.” 

Despite some initial hesitation, organizers were eventually able to hear from 320 individuals who completed an online survey that was made available to the entire Kingston community. In addition to the survey responses, researchers conducted 150 focus groups/interviews, which helped form the basis of the report’s findings. 

Researchers conducted their work in two phases: Community Connection (Phase One) and Community Consultation (Phase Two). In the first phase, researchers carried out five separate connection sessions with community-based organizations in the Kingston area. According to the report, this phase was an “information session” of sorts, where researchers with KSI could give an overview of the project’s mandate and seek feedback from community leaders. 

The community connection phase allowed researchers to better identify the questions they would ask during the second phase, when they would speak directly with a wide range of community members. 

The community consultation phase also occurred in two stages. The first saw an online survey distributed, containing opinion-based and demographic questions. In the second stage, researchers spoke directly with community members, asking them questions about how Kingston Police could incorporate more equitable practices. 

According to Giselle Valarezo, one of KSI’s researchers, the project maintained a strict commitment to research ethics throughout all stages. “I was brought in to help with the research component and [to] help build the research structure in terms of community consultation,” she said. “[We needed to] ensure that this project got ethics approval. We were structuring the questions and the process around collecting from community members, and [then] translating that into documents.” 

Romero noted that the KSI report is not the first time Kingston Police has conducted such studies; however, previous investigations did not include the same commitment to research ethics. “Kingston Police tried this in the past… but the challenge with that study was that it basically had no ethics. They just went out and asked people questions.” Romero related how Valazero had emphasized that researchers could not just ask people about their difficulties with the police without ethics approval. “So we went through a full ethics review… It took a long time,” he said.

Aside from gaining official ethics approval through Queen’s University’s rigorous review process, another key element to KSI’s ethics consideration was a clear separation between the research team and Kingston Police. “We agreed very early on that Kingston Police would be kept at arm’s length,” noted Valarezo. “In terms of community consultation, they were not to be involved in any of it… They were not to look at the data, they were not to [receive] any information.”

“We had consent forms that talked about [how] Kingston Police would not see [participants’] names, they would see the organization they’re affiliated with… So that helped people understand,” Romero added. 

Key findings built around accessibility framework

Overall, the report contains a number of key findings and recommendations based on a six-theme Accessibility Framework: recruitment, training/professional development, internal culture, community interactions, community outreach, and accountability. The recommendations include more transparent hiring processes, mandatory EDI training, and stronger partnerships between Kingston Police and community organizations. 

In terms of the culture within Kingston Police, the report noted the force tends to have a “male-dominated culture” which, it claimed, sees officers take an “aggressive approach” toward certain segments of the community, such as unhoused populations. A negative perception of police officers by certain community members led some study participants to advocate for defunding Kingston Police. 

Of the report’s various recommendations, Valarezo pointed to the creation of a Kingston Police Inclusion Council as its most impactful. “In terms of the original [MOU] that was established between Kingston Police and KCHC, [one agreement] was that there would be the formation of a Kingston Police Inclusion Council, and… this council would largely be made up of a diverse representation of Kingston community members,” she said. 

But while the formation of a council was included in the initial MOU between the two organizations and is mentioned in the report, it is unclear where the project currently stands. In fact, since the report was provided to police officials last July, Kingston Police only recently issued a formal statement on the KSI report and its recommendations

While the statement acknowledged that “a number of measures have been taken to improve relationships with equity-deserving populations,” there is no mention of the Kingston Police Inclusion Council. The statement noted that Kingston Police will be redesigning the role of a dedicated EDI officer, but it offered limited examples of how the force is implementing the report’s official recommendations.

KCHC expresses ‘disappointment’ at lack of progress

With officials at Kingston Police sitting on the report for close to a year before publication, and a seeming lack of commitment to some of the report’s key findings and recommendations, officials with KCHC issued a statement on Wednesday, May 10, 2023, expressing the organization’s “disappointment” with the current state of affairs.

“On April 24, KCHC sent a formal letter to the acting Chief [of Police] indicating disappointment in the lack of progress and [KCHC’s] intention to share the report publicly, in order to complete the final KCHC deliverable of this project. Hearing no response, on April 28, KCHC sent the report and an update letter to all organizations and people who had been part of the project, and published it on the KSI webpage,” the statement read.

“This isn’t adequate,” Romero said in the release. “Kingston Police should publicly outline the measures they have taken to improve relationships with equity-deserving communities. [The Kingston Police] Force owes the Kingston community a transparent and fulsome outline of their [EDI]-related activities, including measures of accountability to track their progress.”

In an interview with Kingstonist, Romero added that his organization will continue to hold Kingston Police accountable for commitments made by that organization as part of the KSI project. “It’s important for us to get back on track. The one thing I love about this report is that we didn’t just highlight the problems… we actually gave them a systematic plan and action items that can actually be tracked.” Romero also emphasized how rare it was that the framework and suggestions were coming directly from people who had encountered police and knew many of the problems firsthand.

Kingston Police respond to ‘disappointment,’ report findings

When asked why Kingston Police officials waited almost a year before making the contents of the report public, acting Police Chief Scott Fraser said, “Since [taking] over on January 1, 2023, [I] have been excited to move forward in our EDI journey… We heard and recognize that we needed to improve and, as a result, are making changes. As with any change, it takes time and we want to ensure we make these changes properly.”

Fraser added, “We acknowledge change is needed and took time to embed some of the recommendations into our Strategic Plan, a public document, and also [took] a comprehensive look at our practices to ensure we have something useful to say to the community. We are working with the City of Kingston and are united with the City in ensuring we are all marching in the same direction.”

In response to Romero’s suggestion that there has been a breakdown in communication between the two parties since the final report was submitted last July, the acting Chief said, “There was never a plan to move beyond the KSI report with KCHC. Working together with our front-line officers, our organization is working hard to act on the recommendations made in the report and make [EDI] part of what we do every day in the community.”

Fraser noted that the report’s recommendations have “assisted in developing strategic direction for Kingston Police.” As for the status of the Inclusion Council, Fraser said, “The KSI report will inform on the creation of an inclusion council. In order to ensure we do this properly, we have had to redesign our EDI role within the organization.”

“We are ensuring we select a member who can commit to the program for a period of [two to three] years, at minimum. We are working with the City of Kingston Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Office to properly implement these changes,” added the acting Chief. “We are working towards implementing some of the [KSI report’s] recommendations, but are also tasked with ensuring law enforcement and the safety of the community. A healthy balance between both is what we strive to obtain. Some recommendations may be implemented more quickly than others, and we ask for the community’s patience while we reorganize the service.” 

Other action items highlighted by Fraser include further “alignment” between the City of Kingston and Kingston Police, as well as adjustments to recruitment strategies. “We are expanding our reach by not only recruiting from within our community, but looking to other regions and populations in order to reach a broader and more diverse demographic,” he said. The KSI report noted that Kingston Police should start recruiting from “larger municipalities, as there is a lack of diversity in Kingston.”

As for the relationship between Kingston Police and the broader community, including the treatment of “equity-deserving groups,” Fraser confirmed that police liaison teams, which were formed shortly after the report was released, have been “instrumental in delivering messaging and working alongside various groups within the community, including but not limited to the student population, as well as unhoused individuals residing in and around the Belle Park area.”

Fraser went on to thank the KCHC team for their work on the KSI project. “KCHC was able to reach community members who may not have communicated with the police. These community members provided valuable insight and feedback which assisted us in identifying areas in which we need to improve. Now we need to action these items and ensure we do it properly,” he said.

“KCHC remains an important [part of] our community, and we thank them for their undertaking and this report,” added Fraser.

For his part, Romero said he remains hopeful the project will lead to meaningful change. “I hope police will say, ‘Enough is enough — let’s make a change.’ I do believe the new leadership can do it, and they want to do it.” 

The full contents of the KSI report can be found on the KCHC website, which includes links to the entire 42-page report as well as a one-page overview of its main contents

One thought on “Release of Kingston Speaks Inclusion Project Final Report causes concern

  • Sad to think about how long it would sit unpublished if left to Kingston Police’s own timelines.

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