Ontario just gave Toronto Police $5 million and the provincial police $7.5 million to "combat gun violence", the money directly going into a program called TAVIS.
TAVIS for those that don't know is the Toronto Anti Violence Intervention Strategy. The pinnacle of Toronto's community policing strategy.
To understand how community policing works in Toronto, lets go back to June 8th to a community meeting in Jane-Finch.
At a Jane-Finch Crisis Support Network, Superintendent of the local police division David McLeod came in uninvited, and harangued the Co-Chair of the meeting until she left the meeting. He referred to an interview she did recently as "borderline criminal".
And what was this "borderline criminal" behavior? She had told Boss Magazine that she was passionate about community led resistance against the police and working towards global comradeship against the austerity knife.
According to a letter released by the Network later: "Superintendent McLeod was severe, unrelenting and intimidating in his manner. Members of the network at the meeting stated on several occasions that this was inappropriate, that this was not the space or time to have this discussion, and that he should stop pursuing this topic, but he continued. Members stated that this was her freedom of speech. He responded that as a community leader, she did not have that right ... Superintendent McLeod continued to force his point of view on those present at the meeting and was relentless."
For a network of local organizations, many of them funded by the city, many of them constantly interacting with the Police to release a statement against the ranking police officer in the area is no small matter.
I spoke to Anna Willats, a member of the Toronto Police Accountability Coalition who advocated for community policing in the early 2000s. "I don't talk about community policing really anymore", Anna said in a phone interview. "The trouble with community policing is that it is very subjective. You have a very different understanding of what it is depending on where you are in the relationship," she says.
"For the police it traditionally means asking the community: are you working with us? Are you sitting on our committee? Are you participating in events we have set up? And if you are not, then are you against us?"
42 Division Const. Gary Gomez explains in a press release: “You need a trusting relationship with the public. If we don’t have that relationship, we can’t be effective as police officers.”
And that's the whole point. The purpose of community policing is to get community people to trust police, give them information, share strategies and definitely not criticize. This trust is demanded not by becoming more accountable, but by embedding an extremely large number of officers in every community space, school, social service organization as possible.
But Jane and Finch Support Network wanted accountability. In a letter to Toronto Police Services, they wrote "Were he [McLeod] a community member without a gun at his side and a badge on his chest, he would have been asked to leave...No person has the right to behave so abusively, and his destruction of safe space is only compounded by the authority that the Superintendent of 31 Division carries around with him... Superintendent McLeod can no longer be allowed to continue in his position, and the Jane and Finch Crisis Support Network demands his immediate removal from this position at 31 Division, and an apology from the Toronto Police Service. Given how he has behaved in our community spaces, we have concerns about his relocation to another area simply to continue his abuse on others. We ask that he no longer be allowed to work directly with community, and to limit his influence on other officers who do have direct contact with community."
McLeod was not having it. A few days later he wrote:
"In some discussions that I have had with individual members of the community and with community organizations, I have heard of "the hurt" [quotes in original] that exists as a result of either individual police interaction(s) and/or as a result of general interaction(s)...The community served by 31 division has several organizations and individual community leaders who dedicate considerable time and effort to finding solutions to many of the issues impacting the area and their lives. Many of those organizations recognize the need to work collaboratively with other community organizations and services to achieve their objectives. Unfortunately it does not appear that "we are all pulling in the same direction". [quotes in original] This realization begs the question why. I believe there are several possible reasons for this. Some may be related to personal agendas or funding sources."
The hint at funding sources sounds like a line from the Federal Conservatives playbook who have called environmentalists criticizing their policies foreign-funded radicals. Though exactly who would fund the criticism of Toronto Police Services is beyond me.
Soon Deputy Chief Peter Sloly waded in to the matter writing on July 9th that the incident "is currently being reviewed as such under the mandate of the Office of Independent Review Directorate. All parties, including Superintendent Dave Mcleod, are fully cooperating"
After suggesting that no one should jump to hasty conclusions, Sloly concluded somewhat ominously that "the work of building safer, more sustainable quality of life in the Downsview area will continue. I am personally confident that Superintendent Mcleod, along with the members of 31 Division, will continue to play an engaged effective element in that work."
That the Deputy Chief of Police is still confident in Superintendent McLeod despite an open letter is noteworthy. The blue wall of support that surrounds police officers has come in to play again.
What is of great concern is that if Toronto Police officers are running rough-shod over employed, seemingly respectable social service providers, one of whom criticized them in a community magazine, what are they doing on the streets with people who they approach as prospective criminals?
The Toronto Police is on an intimidation and intelligence gathering operation very similar to the New York City stop-and-frisk program. A recent analysis of Toronto police stop data from 2008 to mid-2011 showed that the number of young black and brown males aged 15 to 24 documented in each of the city’s 72 patrol zones is greater than the actual number of young men of colour living in those areas.
As a direct result of this "intelligence-led" policing which usually accompanies "community policing" - people are being killed. In 2011, Toronto Police shot and killed Chris Gardian, Charles McGillivary, Sylvia Klibingaitis, Michael Eligon, and Kevin Murray. These were poor people, people of colour, some with mental health illnesses. For every person killed, countless others were injured, beaten or assaulted. How many, we will never know.
The body responsible for ensuring that the police are accountable, the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) has carried out 3,400 investigations in its 20 year history and laid criminal charges after in only 95 of them. The SIU (conveniently) does not track what happens to those it charges. But the Toronto Star found that only 16 officers have been convicted of a crime. Only three have seen the inside of a jail as inmates.
Attempts to discuss the role of policing in Toronto have been stymied. In the most recent budget while every Toronto municipal service faced a 10% cut, the Toronto Police (which comprises the largest portion of Toronto's municipal budget) was actually given a raise.
So while youth programming and shelters are being closed, the Toronto Police has stepped in to organize basketball games and community BBQs and as a result forcing themselves into community organizing spaces like the Jane-Finch Crisis Support Network. Moving from the traditional role of law enforcement, Toronto Police have entered the area of social work, in effect threading themselves deep into communities that have learnt from experience to doubt and hate them.
The most recent spate of shootings in Scarborough could have been a place for a city-wide dialogue on violence and on poverty. Instead it has become a forum for immigrant bashing and for funding the police. To return to the words that started this all, perhaps its time for "community led resistance against the police and working towards global comradeship against the austerity knife".