Chief Evans a no-show as Peel Region ponders rising panic over violent crime
Multiple bank robberies the same day, double homicides and other brazen, violent acts of crime on Brampton streets have left residents scared and frustrated with slow responses from officials. On Thursday incumbent mayor Linda Jeffrey and Regional council considered what’s being done—and isn’t—about Brampton’s alarming wave of violence.
“I think we all felt that alarm that is going on, and the need for some action,” Jeffrey, who sits on the Peel Police Services Board, which provides oversight of the force, said at Thursday’s Peel Regional Council meeting. She raised questions about the perceived lack of coordination by law enforcement and politicians to address the number one concern of many residents.
“I was left with the impression that there were going to be some town halls or a round table with the [Peel police] chief [Jennifer Evans] and some local MPs and MPPs,” she said, referring to a conversation she had with fellow councillors in July. Instead of any such round table or coordinated action plan to address violent crime in the city, those in attendance Thursday heard that little has been publicly stated by Evans, the force she heads, or by elected officials at all three levels of government to calm a public growing increasingly insecure about its safety.
Meanwhile, frazzled Brampton residents watch almost daily as Toronto police officials and that city’s Mayor, John Tory, spend time addressing what’s being done to deal with violent crime there. Tory helped secure $25 million in funding from the new provincial government earlier in the summer, specifically to fight the same type of violent crime that continues to dominate headlines about Brampton.
On Wednesday, a day before the regional council meeting, Jeffrey sent out a press release through her re-election campaign, telling the public that she has lobbied the province for similar funding.
“No community should feel threatened or terrorized by guns,” she stated in her release. “I have asked the Ontario government for additional resources to deal with this issue as they have done for the City of Toronto.” It has been a summer of violence in Brampton, with nothing to suggest that it will let up any time soon.
According to Peel Regional Police statistics, as of August, violent crime is up by 11 percent year over year compared with 2017 in Mississauga and Brampton. Between Jan. 1 and July 31, there had been 50 shootings in the two cities, six of them fatal, compared with 45 during the same period in 2017. Jeffrey, who as a police board member is updated regularly on crime statistics, acknowledged in her press release that the problem is not just a perception.
“It is also clear that the level of gun violence is increasing,” she stated. “To that end I have been actively engaged with both levels of government to see that Brampton is given the resources it needs to fight crime.”
There was scant mention throughout the summer of any such action the mayor says she has taken, as the city was gripped by a wave of crime. Rarely seen forms of violent criminality have become part of the collective consciousness of Bramptonians recently.
In late August, a 51-year-old man and a 22-year-old man were arrested in connection with armed bank robberies in various parts of the city. In one brazen, mid-day bank robbery in August, a man told The Pointer that a gun had been stuck into his ribs, while his terrified daughters looked on.
“No community should feel threatened or terrorized by guns."
The spectre of rising crime hanging over the city has left many Bramptonians feeling uncertain, and residents are demanding more effective action. Regional council on Thursday discussed the uptick in crime in Brampton and Mississauga. On the agenda was a motion—brought forth by Jeffrey and seconded by Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie—to send the Community Safety and Well-Being report to Michael Tibollo, Ontario’s new minister of community safety and correctional services, for review.
The focus of the report is largely on community development, however council hopes to secure additional funding to increase officer strength in the Peel police force and address other shortfalls, to better reflect population growth in the region. Mississauga Ward 9 Regional Councillor Pat Saito added to the wish list: Chief Evans “has said very clearly that one of the biggest obstacles she faces is the judicial system,” Saito said. “I know that Peel police have been lobbying for reform, and Safe Cities Mississauga has been lobbying for reform.”
Evans was notably absent from the regional meeting Thursday. Jeffrey said she had hoped to question the chief about what the police force needs to better protect public safety. It’s not clear why the chief wasn’t present. Evans has often been the target of politicians and civic activists concerned about police abuses and investigative failures.
“I think it would have been helpful to have the chief attend today. I know she has been working with Dr. (Jessica) Hopkins to co-chair the Community Safety and Well-Being plan. That’s really important. I’m glad she is doing that,” Jeffrey said. (Hopkins was recently named Peel Region’s Medical Officer of Health.)
Jeffrey’s main rival in the upcoming municipal election, Patrick Brown, was in the gallery in the early part of the meeting. Brown introduced his own public safety initiative last Friday, and the two candidates’ safety initiatives have been a source of tension between them.
In a statement given to The Pointer in response to Brown’s presentation of his public-safety initiative, Jeffrey accused him of lifting directly from her plan and using it as his own.
“This morning’s announcement (on Sept 7th) by the Brown campaign is nothing more than taking my Community Safety and Well-Being initiative and repackaging it as his own,” Jeffrey said in the statement.
Brown has accused Jeffrey of having a “dysfunctional” relationship with police and dragging her feet in response to crime in the city.
“Police report that to date in 2018, shootings are 11 percent higher than last year’s record pace,” Brown said, at the time. “But when our city looked for support and guidance from city hall, and a renewed focus on public safety, there was no leadership from Mayor Jeffrey. None!”, Brown stated in a press release prior to announcing his initiative last week.
Jeffrey has also said that Brown is playing politics with the public safety issue in a community already racked with anxiety around violent crime: “I am deeply disappointed that Patrick Brown would use the recent spike in violence in Brampton as an excuse for a campaign photo-op.”
In regional council chambers Thursday, debate over Jeffrey’s motion became heated when Ward 9 and 10 Regional Councillor John Sprovieri (who is also running for mayor) suggested curtailing of “street checks”—random stops by police to gather personal information in non-investigation situations—was the reason behind the rise in violence. It’s a claim Evans has also made, with no evidence to support her assertion. Evans has been one of the province’s staunchest advocates of carding, even after data was released for a recent five-year period that showed her force targeted Black people in carding stops at three times the rate, when compared to whites.
Mississauga Ward 5 Regional Councillor Carolyn Parrish took exception to the rehashing of the controversial practice that Evans has stood by.
“I don’t agree, not for a second, that street checks, carding, or whatever you want to call it—it’s called youth harassment—should be brought back in. It is a bad idea.”
Between 2009 and 2011, Peel police performed roughly 26,000 such checks annually. Last year, after the province issued new guidelines that prevent officers from performing them without informing individuals of their right to refuse to participate in the random personal data-collection practice, the force reported that it only attempted two street checks, according to statistics provided to the Peel Regional police services board. The practice, shown to affect minority youth disproportionately, was a much-resented aspect of policing in Peel that was not proven effective in catching criminals or curtailing crime. However, criminology experts, The Law Union of Ontario and local advocacy groups have pointed out that carding in Peel did lead to a breakdown in trust between the force and certain segments of the community, which they claim has negatively impacted the police’s ability to investigate crime.
The night before the Region of Peel council meeting, concerned citizens of Brampton’s Ward 9 and the surrounding area had gathered at Springdale Library for a community meeting with Peel Regional Police.
In attendance were Inspectors Rad Rose and Scott Clair of 12 Division, and Sprovieri (who represents the Ward)—all of whom took questions from the public. Mayoral candidate Brown was present as an observer. Event organizer Heidi Durrant said she wanted to proactively bring police and the public together after a recent shooting near her home. Top of mind for the attendees were two recent shootings in the Desert Sands neighbourhood of Brampton.
Rose gave an update on the investigation that followed the second shooting, saying five individuals had been arrested. No arrests have yet been made in the first shooting, Rose told the gathering.
Conversations between police and the public at the meeting ranged through several topics, particularly police response time, gun violence and street checks.
At times the exchange illustrated the frustration Bramptonians are feeling with what’s perceived as a lack of proactive response by police toward violent crime. Jotvinder Sodhi, of the Home Owners Welfare Association, a local consumer protection group, said he was incensed over the slow response of police to calls, saying it’s often measured “in days and not hours.”
“I have received some emails about those types of issues, and we are working on that,” Rose responded. “We have a system that prioritizes those types of calls. Sometimes we are busy. That does not mean evidence is lost.”
Brown stepped in to repeat a familiar refrain in his campaign, about the ratio of police to citizens.
“I know you can’t say that you need more officers; I know you have to be neutral on that,” he told Rose. “But the provincial average is … we have 189 police officers for every 100,000 residents. In Brampton, that [police number] is 133. So I guess my question would be: Given the fact that you have a big workload with less resources, I think the public deserves to know what crimes you don’t have the resources to respond to.”
Rose replied: “What I know is that the police can’t do it alone. We need you; we need to collaborate with you and all stakeholders in the community who have a common interest. We need you to call us and let us know what’s going on.”
Janice Gordon, the manager at Freshspring Spa, brought up the issue of street checks, demanding to know if Peel police had replaced the time-consuming practice with some other form of intelligence gathering. Long story short, the answer was no.
“I have always believed that the better able to get the tools we have, the better we are able to make the community safe. But we have to rely on the laws and rules that we currently have in place to help the community,” Rose responded.
When asked about whether he believed that the Peel police relationship with the public is strained, he said he believed that it was not.
“There are some people who might have some trust issues with us…. But when I’m in the community I do not get that sense. When people are in trouble, they call us.”
Growing frustration was abundantly evident in the room, providing fodder for Jeffrey and Brown as they seek to appeal to voters in the Oct. 22 election. Crime, among numerous challenges facing Brampton in the lead-up to the vote, has left the public anxious to see what civic leaders plan to do about it.
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie mentioned the summit meeting planned between Peel council and police in late October. Councillors hope Evans will candidly discuss at that meeting what she needs to help tamp down rising violence. At Thursday’s meeting, her absence left many questions about the alarming crime wave unanswered.
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