Jan. 13, 2019



What Does Carding Mean in Policing?

Carding refers to situations where the police, with or without suspicion, request identification from a person in the following circumstances:

  • There is no objectively suspicious activity; and/or
  • The individual is not suspected of any offence, 

This information could then be recorded and stored in a police intelligence database. While at first, the practice was used to help detectives on cases, the practice eventually became more random, leading to the method being controversial as a policy for police enforcement. 

What are the Concerns with Carding?

Setting aside whether or not Carding violates Charter Rights of the individual, some concerns expressed include the following:

  • How will the information be used?
  • Will the individual now be labeled a ‘usual suspect’ or ‘known to police’ leading to further stops and negative treatment?
  • Will this information affect employment prospects and/or travel?
  • Are specific communities (e.g., low-income, Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) more prone to being Carded by the police?

Why was the Practice Introduced?

Policing in Canada has its roots in the United Kingdom. Sir Robert Peel, former Prime minister of the UK and creator of the Metropolitan Police in London had developed Principles of Law Enforcement. These included (but are not limited to) the following:

  • The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder as an alternative to the repression of crime and disorder by military force and severity of legal punishment. 
  • The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behaviour and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect. 
  • The police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain public respect. 
  • The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes, proportionately, to the necessity for the use of physical force and compulsion in achieving police objectives.

Does Carding Reduce Crime?

Some believe that Carding is a necessary practice of policing, particularly in areas with higher crime and violence. Some believe the practice may even reduce crime:

  • General Deterrence theory - As people see more police officers in a given area, their opportunity to commit crime will reduce. 
    • Focusing on one police beat in Kansas City, Sherman & Rogan (1995) conducted for 29 weeks a quasi-experiment in which beat officers attempted three strategies designed to increase gun seizures, including field interrogation, for the purpose of reducing violent crime.  At the experiment’s end, gun seizures were up by 65%, triple the number prior to the experiment’s commencement in the same area and much higher than the rate of seizure in the matched control district. Gun crime went down by approximately 49%—whereas there was almost no change in the comparison district. 
    • Additionally Sherman and Rogan found little evidence of crime displacement away from the area of intensive treatment. Sherman’s empirical endorsement of gun-based hot-spot policing combined with another new approach strategy called broken windows policing after the celebrated article of the same name by George Kelling and James Q. Wilson (1982) revolutionized the policing of street crime (Meares & Kahan 1998).
    • In the context of stop and frisk, deterrence theory would predict that as the number of pedestrian stops increases, overall rates of arrest and weapons seizure will decrease. This is because citizens will theoretically desist from carrying weapons for fear of being arrested, either because they themselves were previously stopped or because they became aware of the increasing number of stops in their community
  • Low hit-rates of Contraband Seizures - while the research is limited, supporters say the low hit-rates of contraband seizures and arrests indicate that in fact it is working. This is difficult to know, because studies were completed in New York City in the early 1990s when crime was going down as a result anyway.

What are the Issues with Carding?

Detractors of Carding point to the disproportionate number of Black, Indigenous and People of Colour who are randomly asked for identification by police.

  • Racism: In New York City, for example, it was found that there were 26 stops of Black people per 100 Black residents, compared to 3 stops of White people per 100 White people. 
    • These findings are fairly similar to those from a representative survey of Toronto high school students, which found that Black high school students were considerably more likely to be stopped at least once than were white high school students (63% vs. 41%). 30% of high school youths of other races reported being stopped at least once.
    • People who appear to be ‘out of place’ (e.g., Black motorists in predominantly white areas) appear to be particularly likely to be stopped. 
  • Distrust of Police: the public’s perceptions of procedural justice, shape legitimacy for their actions. Research has found that experiencing equitable treatment during an encounter with the police boosts individuals’ perceptions of police legitimacy. These findings suggest that how the police treat people plays a key role in determining their support for law enforcement, which is necessary for crime-control efforts to be effective.


I've personally been Carded before. It happened when I was 16. I was very intimidated by the police officer that I figured he had his reasons. I showed my Driver's Licence without question. I understand what it means to be in that scenario of feeling helpless and at the whim of law enforcement.

Maybe we need some form of community-based policing first before an Officer is sworn in. Perhaps a 1-year sabbatical working with the community they will police in the future. The time spent may allow the future officer to get to know the community, the organizations, the people and the places of congregation. Community-based policing could have serious merits in helping to build trust between the community and the police. 

Sources used in this episode: Tracey L. Meares, “The Law and Social Science of Stop and Frisk,” Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 10(1), November 2014: 338. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/268224149_The_Law_and_Social_Science_of_Stop_and_Frisk CBC News, “The Skin We’re In,” Date unknown: https://www.cbc.ca/firsthand/m_features/heres-what-you-need-to-know-about-carding Statistics Canada, “Homicide in Canada, 2017,” The Daily, November 21, 2018: https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/181121/dq181121a-eng.htm?indid=3435-1&indgeo=0 US Department of Justice, “Stop and Frisk: Balancing Crime Control with Community Relations,” Urban Institute, 2015: 15. https://ric-zai-inc.com/Publications/cops-p306-pub.pdf Jamaican Canadian Association, “The Independent Street Checks Review,” February 22, 2018: 13-14. https://streetchecksreview.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Toronto-February-22-2018.pdf Anthony N. Doob and Rosemary Gartner, “Understanding the Impact of Police Stops,” A Report for the Toronto Police Board, January 17, 2017: A6. http://criminology.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/DoobGartnerPoliceStopsReport-17Jan2017r.pdf Justice Michael Tulloch, Report of the Independent Street Checks Review, Government of Ontario, 2018: http://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/Policing/StreetChecks/ReportIndependentStreetChecksReview2018.html---