Brampton residents demand public-police partnership to quell rising gun violence
If pulled taut, the line between civility and anarchy is a tightrope. The police walk it every day. We do, too – unknowingly. Sometimes our streets get so dark, so scary, so infested by gun-toting thugs, mobsters, gangbangers and druggies, our civic leaders have to act.
They did on Thursday at Peel Regional Council.
Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey introduced a motion – seconded by Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie – to send the Community Safety and Well-Being report to Michael Tibollo, Ontario’s minister of community safety, for review. The focus is on community development, and council hopes to secure additional funding for more officers in Peel. The motion passed unanimously.
Fear is a contagion that has gripped Brampton, as it did the night of Sept. 2. At Vodden Road, near Kennedy, Clifford Correia, 27, was shot and killed; his girlfriend survived – barely. On Townley Crescent, Derrick McKeown, 33, was found dead, showing signs of trauma. Patrick Doyle, 27, of Brampton faces two counts of first-degree murder and one of attempted murder.
These savage incidents are only the micro-arc of regional council’s concerns.
Here are some more numbers to mull over: There were 43 shootings in 2015, 54 in 2016, and 76 in 2017. This past summer was the hottest and deadliest yet. As of August, violent crime was up by 11 percent over 2017 in both Mississauga and Brampton. Between Jan. 1 and July 31, there had been 50 shootings in the region, up from 45 during the same period last year.
This, of course, runs contrary to the western world’s first principle of optimism: that everything will work out in the end. No, it will not. Not yet. Not until the politicians, the police and the public create an organic public-safety program that can find solutions, save lives, and disarm the baddies.
Brampton’s mood has soured with news of each death, and the fact virtually no new action was taken this summer to counter the crime spree. Politicians were vacationing as the shots rang out. No meetings were held. A new regime at Queen’s Park was dipping a tentative toe into the waters of governing. The police response to all the carnage was reactionary at best.
The night before the Peel Region council meeting, citizens in Ward 9 met at Springdale Library for a community meeting with Peel Regional Police. Inspectors Rad Rose and Scott Clair of 12 Division joined Regional Councillor John Sprovieri, while Patrick Brown, running for mayor against Jeffrey, sat in the background, observing, just as he did Thursday at regional council.
Janice Gordon, a spa owner, brought up the issue of street checks, which have been curtailed significantly in response to provincial concerns that they have unfairly targeted minority youth and are ultimately ineffective and time-wasting as a crime prevention tool. She wanted to know if Peel police had replaced the practice with something else. She said she’s always believed that the better the tools available to police, “the better we are able to make the community safe.”
The violence is startling, but so is the lack of financial assistance going to Peel, says Regional Councillor Gael Miles – especially if you compare it to the money heading to Toronto.
“We are experiencing the same issues as Toronto, but we are not getting any of the resources,” she said.
If that sounds like a campaign slogan from the Patrick Brown campaign, it is. The former leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives wants Jeffrey’s job in the Oct. 22 municipal vote. Miles has joined his team. He wants a “safe and prosperous city,” and thinks “there is no leadership from Mayor Jeffrey. None.” Miles concurs, saying that “Jeffrey dropped the ball on crime and violence.”
Brown held his first presser at the Cassie Campbell Community Centre last week, where he said Jeffrey, who has sat on the Police Services Board since her election in 2014, has a “dysfunctional” relationship with the police.
Furthermore, he argues she’s been slow to react to the deadly summer of violence. Both she and Crombie pushed to end street checks, also known as carding, which in the heyday of the program stopped tens of thousands of people on the street each year for random personal information-gathering unrelated to active investigations.
Jeffrey says Brown is shamelessly using an issue (street violence) that doesn’t need political grandstanding. She says his statistics were supplied by the region and his ideas were really hers, drawn from her Community Safety and Well Being initiative, rebaked and reissued as his own program.
Jeffrey-Brown are one-two in The Pointer commissioned poll in the race for mayor, and the political campaigning has heightened local scrutiny of the crime issue – a fact that to many outside observers seems a good thing.
It has also unearthed an issue that seemed deeply buried only a year ago.
Peel police have been through a diversity and equity audit, the results of which will be unveiled in November. Jeffrey cringes at the prospect. In 2015, only 13 percent of officers were visible minorities — serving communities where 57 percent (Mississauga) and 74 percent (Brampton) are now visible minorities.
Sprovieri suggested curtailing street checks might be the reason behind the rise in violence. Miles agreed.
Mississauga Regional Councillor Carolyn Parrish retorted that carding is nothing more than “youth harassment.” She is worried, however, that new premier Doug Ford, whom she’s referred to as “Attila the Hun,” might bring carding back to the province. She’s also leery of the money and how it’s being spent at the police services board. She calls it a “secret society” that makes decisions that simply get rubber stamped by the region.
Skyrocketing salary increases approved for Peel police officers between 2006 and 2019 (when the most recently approved contract kicks in) support Parrish’s observation of the force’s unchecked demands.
During that period a 41 percent increase has been budgeted for the base salary of first-class constables. With top-up pay for various incentives, the increase could be as much as 61 percent. The new contract will give first-class constables a base salary of about $101,000 and more than $117,000 with certain premiums approved in the contract. That means, after proceeding through early training on the force, almost every Peel police officer will be on the provincial Sunshine list. Officers are only required to have a high school education.
Parrish is one of many leaders who have questioned the oft proposed solution, which both Brown and Jeffrey are trumpeting this campaign season – that throwing more and more money to hire officers will curb crime.
Instead, forces across North America are being directed to spend funding increases to: modernize intelligence gathering; better train officers; utilize sophisticated crime-fighting technology; and, perhaps most importantly, invest in initiatives that build deep relationships with their communities.
Jeffrey thinks Brampton has a chance to turn the crime numbers around by perhaps leaning on one of its favoured sons at Queen’s Park. She met with Tibollo at the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO) this past summer and was impressed that the Vaughan-Woodbridge MPP is honorary chairman of the Caritas School of Life, a residential therapeutic community that provides services to men suffering from mental health and addiction problems.
More than 40 percent of incoming calls to Peel police last year involved people with mental health problems. Tibollo, a Brampton native, wants to contain crime at the source by promoting youth programs for teens and pre-teens. He saw firsthand how violent the streets of his city are. He did a ride-along with police during the summer.
He’s not the only Bramptonian jumping into the crucible of crime. Justice Michael Tulloch, graduate of Central Peel Secondary School, is responsible for the new regulations on carding that came into effect in January 2017. He released a broad-ranging report on police oversight bodies, a review requiring greater transparency from police watchdogs, and a collection of race-based statistics on police interactions probed by the civilian agencies.
In his latest review, he’s examining whether the carding rules are being implemented “without bias or discrimination” and identifying challenges in applying the regulation, according to a ministry statement. The new rules are formally known as Ontario Regulation 58/16. He has crisscrossed the province to get public input. His report will be published on Jan. 1, 2019.
Tulloch, a graduate of York University and Osgoode Hall Law School, is the first black judge appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal. Had he been born a few years later, he could easily have found himself among the many innocent young black men who were stopped by Peel police and asked for personal information as part of the carding program.
Brown said Jeffrey, who has sat on the Police Services Board since her election in 2014, has a “dysfunctional” relationship with the police. He argues she’s been slow to react to the deadly summer of violence.
Jeffrey was hoping Police Chief Jennifer Evans would be present at regional council Thursday to discuss ways to put a stop to the crime wave infesting Brampton and the region. Other councillors complained they only see Evans once a year, when she’s bringing her next year’s budget for approval. But the conclusion reached by council on Thursday was clear: Whatever Evans wants in her 2019 budget – more officers, equipment, training, or technology – she will get it. The problem of violent crime feels that acute, and the possible solutions seem limited.
Hiring more officers for the third-largest municipal police force in the country is a Band-Aid solution at best. The police insist they are hamstrung by a judicial system in need of reform that continues to spit offenders back onto the street. And which government is going to take on stiffer gun control, Queen’s Park or Ottawa? It might require a full-fledged effort by all branches of government to ease the anxieties of a public angry and worried.
Crombie wants all the stakeholders to meet at a summit on crime she wants to host in Mississauga in October. She says it’s crucial to get this right, because she can feel the anxiety on the street. “People don’t feel safe,” she says, “and that impacts my ability to attract new business to our city.”
Brand Brampton is also taking a pounding. It’s obvious how a title like “Murder City” might play out when families with young children are choosing a community to move to, or a Fortune 500 company considers settling offices there.
Peel police have been through a diversity and equity audit, the results of which will be unveiled in November. Jeffrey cringes at the prospect. In 2015,only 13 percent of officers were visible minorities – serving communities where 57 percent (Mississauga) and 74 percent (Brampton) are now visible minorities.
Criticism of the force goes to the very top – to Evans. As André Marin, the former Ombudsman of Ontario and former head of the Special Investigations Unit (SIU), which investigates police-involved injuries and deaths, has said of Peel police: “The fish rots from the head down.”
Evans declined to be interviewed by The Pointer in our two-part feature on the force – she is considered one of the most polarizing figures in law enforcement, in part because of her zealous support for carding.
In Peel, where about nine percent of the population was black, the force’s own data showed that on average almost 25 percent of those being carded were black during a recent five-year period. Between 2009 and 2014, Peel police conducted 159,303 carding checks, with black people more than three times as likely than white people to be stopped in a given year.
In 2015, the police board, at the urging of Crombie and Jeffrey, voted to suspend carding – and Evans refused to comply. The force finally amended its practice in 2017, after Queen’s Park stepped in. But earlier this year, Evans complained that carding restrictions have led to a spike in violence in Peel, without furnishing evidence connecting the two issues.
She is currently under investigation by the Office of the Independent Police Review Director (OIPRD) over her force’s failure to catch a now-convicted murderer who, over a period of years, murdered at least two members of a Mississauga family; a third death is regarded as suspicious.
A survey conducted by the Korn Ferry Hay Group in 2016 found only 49 percent of officers agreed that the force was well run, and a minority 44 percent had confidence in senior management.
Is it the worst police force in Ontario, as some claim?
The conduct of some officers on the force has done much to erode public faith. Five incidents, plucked from a longer list, include cases of police breach of trust and fraud, money laundering and fraud, a savage beating of a drunken 62-year-old man, an officer convicted on 42 counts of fraud, and the Tasering – twice! – of an 80-year-old Mississauga woman with dementia.
Bungling major investigations. Accusing innocent people of crimes they clearly didn’t commit. Lying in court. And all without punishment. The Pointer’s two-part series laid it all out in rich detail.
It also tossed out more numbers from our commissioned Forum Research poll of 999 eligible voters in our community. Asked if they feel safer now than four years ago, 65 percent said they feel less safe in Brampton, and crime, out of all local issues, was their second biggest worry at 24 percent, just one tick behind property taxes.
Only 45 percent of those surveyed agreed that Peel police are doing a “good job” keeping the community safe, while 38 percent said they are not, and 17 percent are not sure.
One thing Brown and Jeffrey agree on is the charge that Brampton is under-policed. They say the city has 138 police for every 100,000 residents (a number unconfirmed by The Pointer), far below the provincial average of 189.
Sprovieri says there were five shootings in his wards last year. Just a month ago, while he was being interviewed for a Pointer profile, the RBC bank branch a few metres away was robbed, leaving customers and staff traumatized after having a gun pointed at their heads.
Sprovieri, who is also running to be mayor, thinks much of the violence in Brampton is imported from the Jane and Finch area of Toronto, a spillover from a drug-fuelled gang war in which the choice of weapon is the handgun. His views on this aren’t supported by any evidence.
The upcoming municipal election has politicized the issue. You can’t really blame Brown or Jeffrey or the other five candidates from seizing on it and claiming to have a solution. Evans seems dug in on the carding issue – even if the present compromise is lawful. It forces police to respect Charter Rights, but gives them every ability they always had, as long as people choose to cooperate with officers if they’re asked for information in a non-investigation situation.
Observers might ask: What’s wrong with a police force initiating its own reformation? Companies remake themselves all the time in response to changing demographics. Why can’t Peel police be more reflective of the community they serve?
A societal shift has dramatically altered the face of Brampton and Mississauga over the past 30 years, but the force is lagging behind in its hiring practices. Why not pull in recruits from Brampton and Mississauga, instead of from far flung places that don’t look or feel like our city? What’s wrong with being more transparent with the public and the politicians that represent us? Why not form partnerships that lead to long-term solutions on crime?
Brown has attacked Jeffrey for demanding these things of the force that she oversees directly through her position on the police board.
The core idea of a police force is to protect the public. The 1829 founder of the modern constabulary – and Peel Region’s namesake – Sir Robert Peel once said, "the police and the community are one." If keeping the public safe is the number one priority in Peel’s nine key principles, the next is a close second: “the ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.”
“Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”
Sure, times have changed. Guns are everywhere. Drug-related street battles are leaving a trail of dead young men.
The public needs police more than ever to protect them from the sons of anarchy. But public perceptions need to change, as does the force itself. The hope is that improvements to policing processes will ease the angst about public safety expressed in The Pointer poll.
We don’t need police who are constantly found to be breaking the rules of comportment, never mind the law itself. We don’t need to install programs like carding that are no better than race baiting.
Sir Robert Peel may have never imagined that the principles he set out for 19th century British policing would be needed even more in the 21st.
Our current problems in Peel might be solved, at least in part, by following advice given to us 200 years ago by the man the region is named for!
A police-public partnership will narrow the gap and ease the tension that has festered between us, and create a united front against violence on our streets.
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