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News 2005

posted October 17, 2005

Trying again to build bridges with the police

We're trying again to build bridges between the community and the police. Here's why: There's been a pattern for some years of illegal searches and police telling park users that the park is "very dangerous". That's not what we see, so we'd like to know why. We're worried that this approach will cause problems in the community, rather than solve them.

Open letter to Superintendent James Dicks, Toronto Police Service, Fourteen Division.

Is Dufferin Grove Park really as dangerous as local cops say? Or are they mistaken?

September 20, 2005

Dear Superintendent Dicks,

I am writing to you as the editor of a long-running monthly community newsletter, and as an even longer-time friend of Dufferin Grove Park. Since I wrote to you on August 22, the situation I described then has become even more worrisome. You may remember that my earlier letter referred to police searches of some regular park users near the basketball court some days previously. Police were looking for a knife. (They are often looking for a knife).No charges were laid. I described your staff’s comments then and on several previous occasions, about Dufferin Grove Park being a dangerous park, in a dangerous neighborhood.

On September 5, four police cars came into the park and police searched the same group of black youth for guns. One of the officers held a shotgun, and this incident was observed by a number of other park users, all of whom found it very disturbing. The incident has been the subject of much local discussion since.

No charges were laid then either. However, one of the officers told the park staff person that the park is very unsafe. He also told her that there was a fatal shooting in the park two months ago, and when the park staff person said she had heard of no such thing, he said that "there are some things the police do not release to the media so they can get leads." He insisted that this shooting had happened at Dufferin Grove Park. It seems evident that more than a few Fourteen Division staff who we’re seeing now are new to the area and unfamiliar with Toronto (i.e. they live outside of the city). They may also be relatively new to policing. We are concerned that this unfamiliarity leads them into a mistrust of local people and an “us-against them” stance. Such an attitude makes for a volatile situation that could put park users in danger.

We want to find out the case-by-case basis for your staff's "dangerous park" comments. Staff Inspector McLeod wrote to me "Our coding does not allow for a search of that information [stops by police] by location, however I can tell you that between August 2002 and August 25th, 2005 there were 289 documented police /citizen contacts in the park."

I think we need to know more. Because the disparity between our experience as park users and your staff’s perceptions is so disturbing, we would like to know the case-by-case reasons for those contacts, personal information left blank. We also need to know whether your office’s assertion of a fatal shooting is correct. We need to know if there are any records of other violent attacks in the park within the last three years, by date, giving non-personal details (such as use of a weapon, and if so, what kind, and the damage done). If arrests were made, we need to know the outcomes in court. We hope you will be able to respond to our freedom of information requests and answer these questions.

We need this information in the interest of public safety. This park is very well known throughout Toronto and beyond, and gets heavy use year-round. Many people who live in the neighborhood spend a great deal of time in the park, enjoying the company of their neighbours (of all ages and races). If there has been significant crime in our park of which we have not been made aware, plans should be made collaboratively to address the causes. If, on the other hand, the data you furnish does not bear out your staff’s perceptions of danger, that is also a serious problem. Police will not be effective in this park and in this neighbourhood if they operate in a bubble of their own perception, independent of the community they serve. They may have a negative effect on park users. We would like to work with you to fix this.

I hope that you are as concerned about this as we are.

Jutta Mason

Staff Sgt.Frank Besenthal, head of the Fourteen Division Community Response Unit, called and asked us to come and meet with Supt.Dicks and Staff inspector Macleod. However, when we (four of us including two park staff) got there, the superintendent and his second-in-command were both off sick. There was no attempt by Supt.Dicks to make another appointment, and none of the questions in the letter above were answered.

A freedom of information request asking for the information above was sent to the City of Toronto Corporate Access and Privacy office on Sept.20, but it was returned. It turns out that the Police operate their own, separate freedom of information office. We submitted our questions to that office on October 2, 2005, with a cheque for $5 made out to the Toronto Police Service.

[ed. -- see also the formal request we made for information about this under the Access To Information Legislation. Read more >> ]


posted October 17, 2005

Local Lawyer Witnesses Illegal Police Search at the Park

From email correspondence:

E-mail from J.P., October 17, 2005:

On my walk through the park to Blockbuster last night (between 6:30 & 7 pm) I saw three police around two young black guys by the washroom. The police were doing a full search of one fellow. After going through a minute search of every nook and cranny of his jacket and pants a very small baggie with pot fell to the ground. They immediately slammed him on the picnic table and cuffed him. At this point I spoke up and said "you're not allowed to do that--you can't search someone you haven't charged". They ignored me and appeared to be trying to provoke the fellow by speaking about dealing etc. He was answering back so I shifted my attention to him and said "don't answer their questions, they're not allowed to do this--speak with a lawyer." The police asked me did I want the park filled with drugs and then one of them came up to me and said I had to move away because he was accessing confidential information on his police radio. Not having been in this situation before, I started to feel unsure of what more I could do.

After I walked away, I wished I'd asked for their names and badge numbers and that will definitely be what I'll do if I find myself in a similar situation again. They were still there when I came back from the video store, so I again just stood nearby. They had cuffed the second guy, but they then let him go and he rode away on his bike.

A few things struck me from this incident (other than the obvious about the police behaviour and how it certainly doesn't assist creating dialogue in our community). It really didn't appear that the two fellows had any idea about their rights.

Response from Jutta Mason:

It may be that these guys didn't know their rights or it may be that they are on probation for something and therefore they know they can be searched without being charged. Most of the youth at the park do have a pretty sophisticated grasp of the law but they also have lots of experience with what can happen in the real world, and they're careful.

About the police asking you to move: last year a group of us had a session with a shinny hockey player whose also a lawyer. This man had just written an article for a law journal about the charge of "obstruct police." He said that if police tell bystanders that they are not allowed to observe, that's wrong. But people need to say politely and clearly,"officer, I don't want to get in your way, I will just stand over here." Understandably, police don't like the feeling that someone is watching from behind nor that they are being crowded as they're working. But a person standing a little distance away (not far), where the officer can see them easily, is perfectly legal. This lawyer also said that if an officer still wanted to lay a charge of obnstruction even after these rules are followed, he (the lawyer) would gladly defend anyone from the park for free.

What you did yesterday is the very best thing -- stand and witness. It's not unnoticed by the black youth that a white person has stood up for them. There's a small but growing number of people in the park who are concerned by what the police have been doing, and who are prepared to do what you did -- I mean, simply stay and watch, even if the police challenge them (they usually do). I can't tell you how much that has improved the "chilly climate" that used to exist in the park between the black guys and everyone else. No cloud without its silver lining!

And you're a brave lady.

Response from J.P.:

I didn't think about the probation aspect (criminal law not being my "thing"). If you hear from anyone at the park that probation was not an issue in last night's arrest, I am happy to be a witness to the fact the police did an unlawful search. I must say it definitely is easier to "stand and witness" when you are a middle aged, middle class white woman, so I can't say I feel particularly brave.

From Jutta Mason:

I asked around at the park and found out who the two were. Apparently the man who was taken away was released at the station. I'll talk to him when I see him around the park. At some point one of these young men may have to take the police to court for unlawful search, since it's become so common at the park. But I think these guys are perhaps worried that they'll be even more targeted if they try to fight it.

It's important to note that many of these guys are not saints -- many are on parole or probation, although mainly for smaller offences. I've seen some of them around the park for years, and I've watched some of those folks "turn the corner," in a better direction, and been glad for them. But beyond that -- people who have done time in the past or are on probation still have some rights, maybe?

There's an old Muslim tale about somebody looking under a lamp post for a lost key, even though that's not where they lost it, "because the light's brighter over here." No kidding. Yesterday there was that awful shooting of the bus driver in Scarborough, and we need the police to find those people and arrest them. The problem is that there seems to be almost a correlation between a crime somewhere and a search of that same black group of youth at at Dufferin Grove Park -- because the police know where these guys hang out, not hidden, right out in the open -- searching them is so easy. But it's such a sad vicious circle -- who will cooperate with the police when it counts, remembering how they behaved at other times?


posted August 22, 2005

Letter To Supt Dicks: Police Issue Tickets To Young Black Males

Superintendent James Dicks,
Fourteen Division,
Toronto Police Service, 150 Harrison St., Toronto, ON , M6J 2A4
Dear Superintendent Dicks,

I have been meaning to send you a copy of the July 2005 Dufferin Grove Park newsletter, which contains an article “The Police need our help.” Some of us in the neighbourhood are concerned that some of your newer officers are operating in a bubble – that they know less about the neighbourhood than they ought, and that this will interfere with their work. It can also have a negative affect on the neighbourhood, in this case, on the park.

Read More >>


posted July 7, 2005

Girl Gangsters Threaten A Park Volunteer; Basktball Players Help

One farmers’ market day near the beginning of June, some girls from the St. Clair area, several with their faces covered by bandanas, plus a cheering section, came to get revenge on an enemy girl at the park. They wanted to draw her into a fight so they could beat her up. The enemy girl and her many supporters (both male and female) did not want to fight. So there ensued lots yelling, cursing, attempts at provocation etc., among a group of about 20 young people, right beside the oven as the market was going on. Jutta’s attempt to get the visiting gangster girls to leave the park mainly led to them including her in their abuse. Eventually if became clear that the girls would continue to try to step up their nonsense. Park staff called police, knowing that such calls rarely bring timely results. After an interval, police were called again, still with no results.

However, the threat of police led parts of the group to move toward the main path, where they continued their cursing, mocking, and provocation. Eventually Jutta’s patience ran out and she took hold of sleeves and backpacks and pulled two of the girls toward the edge of the park. This led to increased threats and shouting and eventually, Jutta was shoved around.

The direct physical contact brought the problem to a head. Some of the regular basketball players intervened right away and made it clear to this rude group that they must leave instantly. The girls got out of the park, still shouting, and did not return.

Meantime the farmers’ market went on as usual, although a few people protested that the shouting made them feel unsafe. Later on, the police arrived, but by then there was nothing for them to do.

Jutta wished afterwards that she had pushed the girls out sooner, and not listened to their nonsense for so long. A park must have standards of behaviour or it won't be a good place to come to. Youth problems have a history in our park as elsewhere in Toronto and decisive action is needed when there is a threat of violence. In this case, as soon as the threats turned to real shoving, the situation became clear for what it was, and help arrived from the other youth. As for those farmers’ market users who saw the trouble but passed by on the other side and said nothing, they may need to think about everyone's role in how a park becomes safe.


posted July 7, 2005

The Police Need Our Reality Check

Attempts to engage the help of police at Fourteen Division to make the park safer have not been very successful over the years. So we’ve had to learn how to deal with disturbances ourselves, most times. (We’re still got lots to learn, but standards of behaviour in the park have improved as a result of our determination.)

It’s not that police don’t come to the park, they come often, driving all over the grass in their cruisers. Sometimes they park several cars in the middle of the park and chat, and then if they get a call on their radio, they drive through the park very fast on their way out. Occasionally there are bicycle police as well, which is safer. But these unscheduled visits to the park often seem to center on asking black park users for identification, for reasons that are not always clear. Recently there have been visits to the park by police on motorcycles, again cruising over the grass (but more slowly than the cars).

Fourteen Division officers recently told park staff that they drive through Dufferin Grove Park so much because this park is dangerous, there are robberies, and there are vicious youth gangs here dealing in crack cocaine. Since none of these things seem true about the park, we have a puzzle: what makes the officers think this way?

One thing is that many of the police constables we see are very young and many may just be starting out in the force. There are no familiar faces among them, no one introduces themselves, and none of the police seem to be curious to find out more about the park or the neighbourhood from those of us who live here. We have heard that up to 80 per cent of the Toronto police don’t live in the city. If they come in only to work, from Brampton or from Pickering, and have never experienced ordinary life in a downtown neighbourhood, how much does that affect their ability to understand where they are?

Police operating in a bubble are not a good thing. They need our help. Park users who encounter the police driving through the park may want to stop them and say a friendly hello, introduce themselves, and tell the young officers a bit about the park and the neighborhood. Community policing won’t work without a genuine connection, built one conversation at a time, and we park users may have to take the initiative.


posted January 18, 2005

Near-riot at Dufferin Rink

An email to Park and Rec's Don Boyle, December 1, 2004, with copies to Adam Giambrone (City Councillor), and the friends of dufferin grove park email list server

Subject: Near-riot at Dufferin Rink

hello Don,

I need to report an very unfortunate incident tonight at Dufferin Rink.

One of the problems of most neighbouring rinks opening later than ours is that we're mobbed with eager youth at Dufferin Rink until the other rinks open. Tonight around 6 p.m. there were about 70-plus young guys taking turns trying to play hockey, plus more people on the pleasure-skating side. Because it was so crowded and it's the first week, the recreation staff had to cope with some very poor skater behavior. We can only have two recreation staff on at a time and they were struggling.

When the two Tuesday night rink operators arrived at the rink do the ice shortly after six p.m., some of the most troublesome youth went and played hockey on the pleasure-skating side, and they began smoking, cursing loudly, and wrestling on the ice. I happened to be passing by, and I joined the rec staff in telling these particular youth that it was time to get their skates off and leave for the night.

That's when the new (to this area) rink operator decided to get involved. This gentleman has been telling any staff who will listen, all week, that I am not the boss, he is, and that things will go as he says they will. Fair enough -- he is rarely on site. Unfortunately, he chose this evening to extend his message to the skaters, telling them not to listen to me because I am only a volunteer.

The troublesome youth took the rink operator's message to heart, became more bold in their abuse (toward the rec staff as well), and stayed on the ice. The situation escalated quickly until more joined in the smoking, cursing, skating under the raised lift gate, etc. Recreation staff repeated their instruction for the skaters to leave, were ignored, and were finally forced to call the police.

This did not produce any police. By then, three young men had emerged as the ring leaders. They were verbally supported by the new (to this area) rink operator. Our regular rink operator tried to repair the damage by supporting the recreation staff's and my instructions. But the situation had got so out of hand that I called the rink supervisor, who promptly ordered both his operators to leave the premises, perhaps also worried for their safety.

The only thing left for us to do was talk to all the skaters and tell them that we would have to close down the rink for the night if the three ring leaders didn't leave the premises. Then a lot of law-abiding skaters got involved, but the three ring-leaders were adamant about their right to stay, and very abusive. So we turned off the rink lights, and asked all skaters to leave the ice. The result was enough community pressure that the ring-leaders finally, reluctantly, left. We will follow up with letters of trespass.

After they were gone, peace broke out again in this normally pleasant rink, we turned the rink lights back on, and the shinny hockey resumed.

I think there are two lessons in this near-riot (there were enough weak "follower" types that it was a bit dicey for a while):

1. the new (to our area) rink operator is not a suitable worker for our rink (and indeed, perhaps not for any rink) and it would be good if he was reassigned to other work -- please do not let him return.

2. if so many youth in this part of town love to play hockey, perhaps next year it would make sense to open a few more rinks as soon as the weather gets cold? Overcrowding makes people behave badly.

I have also cc'd this letter to neighbourhood friends of the rink and the park, in case one or two of them would like to pass along their views on this situation.

Jutta

P.s. the police, by the way, never showed. If anyone would like to encourage Fourteen Division to help city staff enforce city by-laws (this was the rink staff's first call for assistance in two years), they might want to call Supt. Jim Dicks at 808-1400.

This follow-up email was sent to the same people: Park and Rec's Don Boyle, with copies to Adam Giambrone (City Councillor), and the friends of dufferin grove park email list server

Subject: My error re police

In last night's "near-riot at the rink" e-mail, I wrote that the police never came. It turns out they DID come later.

Our troubles began in earnest at about 6.40. The police were called around 7. The rink operators were ordered by their supervisor to leave the site about 7.15 (I think). We took the gamble of turning off the rink lights at about 7.20. (Crossing our fingers that this would not lead to a rampage). I was shoved by young non-skating fellow (not badly) at about 7.25. Peace was restored and hockey resumed at about 7.35.

The police came at 8.20.

I have an idea that maybe the best thing to encourage Fourteen Division's attention to public space would be if, whenever people from the neighborhood next encounter an officer, they might mention (in a very friendly way) that they heard that police DID respond to the call for assistance from Dufferin Rink, but that people in the neighborhood would appreciate it if future calls got a bit of a quicker response.

If possible.

Jutta


posted October 26, 2005

Community Dialog: Relations with the Police

posted October 26, 2005

Position: Against "Attacking" the Police

Enough is enough Jutta,

Please end your seemingless endless proselytizing against the police and open your eyes and your mind. Every situation you describe in your slanted, self-serving "articles" serves only to report your perception of the world (which apparently only extends to the boundries of Dufferin Grove park) and the "injustice" that you witness. What all of your articles and their accompanying tirades from the converted lack is a sense of context, the context of the greater neighbourhood, the city, and society in general.

Have you spoken to the administration at the nearby school to see what particular problems they have with some of the "youth" that frequent the park and prey upon their students? Have you spoken with the mall administration and the security staff to talk about how people intent on commiting crime within the mall often use the park either as a rallying place or a route of escape? Have you actually spoken with any of the officers who patrol the park and ask them why they take their vehicles through it?

If you and your accolites are so quick to find deficiencies in the conduct of police when in your park (ie: Illegal Searches) then perhaps you should take a look at your own actions and subject them to such close scrutiny. You were quick to congratulate yourself on your conduct with your boisterous "gang girls" - did you ever stop and question wether you had the right to intervene at all? You claim that you led them from the park..by what right or authority? Stop beating the drum of your own self-righteousness for a minute and try to open a sincere dialogue with Police - the results might amaze you.

I'll submit this e-mail in the hope that you'll reproduce it. I sincerely doubt that you will as not only are the self-appointed "editor" of the Friends of Dufferin Grove Newlsetter you also seem to be its chief censor.

A long time resident.

Tim Trotter

posted October 26, 2005

Position: Unfairness to youth won't work

Thank you Mr.Trotter. If you look at other parts of the web site, you will note that we post any letters we get. Yours will most certainly be posted.

In answer to your questions, yes, I and others have spoken at length with police, mall, and school staff over the years. They all have tough problems to deal with, and they also create problems. For instance, the school has brought many difficulties into this area since they changed over from being a primary school in 1984. Perhaps you are on the staff there? I have heard that several school staff have recently asked some youth who sit at the basketball court to leave the park, on the grounds that they are leading the St.Mary's students astray. No need to look that far, though. As a long-time resident upwind of the school, I daily see groups of students in St.Mary's uniforms refuelling with marijuana between classes, along the laneway north of the school (behind my house). They seem to have a very efficient distribution system all their own. Other students race their cars along the streets in a dangerous manner and will one day hit a pedestrian. Some have fights inside the rink change house. Many others distribute litter all along the route between their school and the fast-food places, and make the air ring with curses.

However they are young and many of them will get over this phase. in the meantime, it's important for the grown-ups, like me and you, to try and be both resolute and fair. Sounds like you might want to scuttle the "fair." Frustration with the difficulties all around us can make us want to cut to the chase and just get rid of people who make the difficulties. Those people who are right out in the open and obvious, like the black and coloured youth who sit idle in the park, might seem like the easiest place to begin. But targeting them is unfair, and unfairness doesn't work in the long run.

As for the wannabe "gangster girls" who came to the park and wanted to beat up a another girl -- as you know, if they had done that at the school they attend, they would have been expelled. There is a fairly broad social consensus that threatening to attack someone, and trying to provoke a fight, are not acceptable behaviours. Since these girls picked the park as an alternative site for their violence, I would hope that any adult witnessing this would try to intervene. This could mean getting them to leave the area (in this case the park) if they wouldn't respond to a request to stop. Would you have preferred me to just let the group attack the girl they were after? You recall, the park staff did call the police. But the police coming an hour later doesn't address the problem.

My hunch is that, if you had been there, you would have tried to stop them as well.

If you would like to have a more detailed conversation about these important issues, I'd be happy to have a cup of coffee whenever you choose.

Jutta Mason


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