diane maclean, the woman whohelped organize a toy gun amnesty for kids here in Regent Park a couple of weeks back, takes in the buzz of activity around her.It's the official opening this afternoon (Monday) of a newly resurfaced basketball court. Cops from across the street at 51 helped raise money for the work and equipment. Raptor Antonio Davis will be here for the ceremony.
There's been a flurry of such activities of late. The rash of shooting deaths in the area, six in all, has unnerved the city. Everyone seems to be getting in on the feel-good act.
When Attorney General David Young came down from his perch at Queen's Park last Friday (July 27) to announce more money for Crimestoppers, there were T-shirts for the kids.
Although plenty of police are here today, most residents in Regent Park complain that the cops are barely visible most of the time.
It's rare to find any cops walking the beat. Most nights they don't venture far into the neighbourhood, preferring to patrol the perimeter in their cruisers. They've disengaged from the community.
"The police," says Adonis Huggins, editor of community newspaper Catch Da Flava, "have become invisible."
Like others here, MacLean worries about what will happen when the political and public furor dies down, the extra officers brought in temporarily to calm the crisis return to their old divisions and the policing service in this neighbourhood goes back to being little more than constables in cruisers driving through the community rather than connecting with it.
Residents say the new head at 51, Ron Taverner, is making an effort, but he did not respond to several requests from NOW for comment.
His goodwill, however, is not translating into more cops on the beat. What used to be a complement of 25 foot patrol officers has been reduced to 10 stretched across the entire division.
That reduction has taken a toll on the families who live here, 40 per cent of which are headed by single parents, and whose median income ($14,000) is a quarter of the average for most of the city.
There's little doubt in the mind of Debra Dineen, a community worker in the area, that the absence of foot patrols has contributed to the surge in recent violence.
"The proof is in the pudding," Dinnen says. Residents told chief Julian Fantino at a meeting last December that the community needed more cops on foot. But Dineen says the chief became "critical" and "defensive."
"We just want to be safe," says MacLean. "Look at the cops here today. If they're not involved in making changes at the community level, it's not going to happen higher up the chain of command. Then we're doomed."***
Under Bill Blair, the former head at 51 Division, much was done to get cops out of their cars and onto the beat. The effort went a long way toward building trust and smoothing long-strained relations between police and residents. The police presence seemed to act as a deterrent to crime. People began to feel that the police cared.But Fantino, since taking over 18 months ago, has emphasized rapid response to calls for service -- a reactive model rather than the proactive one that's proven effective in poor communities across North America.
Unit commanders have been under the gun to clear calls for service and, as a consequence, have had to pull cops off foot patrols -- critics say in an attempt to pump police stats for more money at budget time. "We can't put a foot patrol out on a consistent basis because of the calls for service," says police services board chair Norm Gardner.
One senior officer I spoke to says the rank and file are being sent mixed messages, "hard-nosed zero tolerance from the chief and demands for foot patrols from the community."
Blair, who's now in charge of force deployment for the entire downtown, talks these days of force-wide priorities "pulling us in different directions." He says special events like Gay Pride, Caribana and the Beaches Jazz Festival put a strain on resources.
"You have to get people from somewhere," he says. This sounds a little unusual coming from Blair. Surely, the resources could be found, given the gravity of the situation in Regent Park?
In fact, cops have been brought into 51 Division -- albeit temporarily -- to provide more of a presence. It seems to be working. Residents say they haven't heard gunshots at night for a while.
Still, Blair is noncommittal.
He does expect more cops to be assigned to foot patrols in Regent Park at some undetermined point in the future, he says. But only after "we satisfy our mandatory requirements for maintaining the level of emergency response."
He says that won't be for at least another six months. But even that timeline seems unlikely. Word is, other unit commanders were miffed when told they had to give up one cop each to bolster patrols in Regent Park.
Says Blair, "We've been doing the best we can."
The need for more police resources has been the line coming out of headquarters.
The force's own stats, however, don't indicate an appreciable rise in overall workload for police. Overall, crime is down slightly. The number of emergency calls has not increased markedly. Geographically, the division is the smallest in the city. What's also clear from the stats is that police are spending more time in their cruisers.
But you wouldn't know that talking to Gardner. "Our people are running haggard," he says. "You can't expect them to be as proactive. The guys are working 10-hour shifts and longer.
"They tell me that people in the community spit on them. They have no respect for police whatsoever. We need other players to deal with the social problems."
But Regent Park residents aren't the only ones questioning the force's commitment.
Criticism is also coming from some unlikely sources, like Tory Gordon Chong. The former city councillor and chair of the Metro Toronto Housing Corporation has been trying since February to get police to buy into joint community foot patrols with Metro Housing special constables.
It's only when he threatened to show up at the police services board meeting two Fridays ago and cause a scene that he says he got a call from Blair to discuss the issue.
"There's no reason why we shouldn't have a sustained and predictable level of policing in all our communities," Chong says. "Right now, all they do is drive around the community. They don't even get out of the damn car. If you're so jaded that all you're doing is going in and punching the clock, then maybe you should get out of (the force)."
Police union head Craig Bromell has been saying for weeks that rank-and- file morale is very low.
But Bromell says cops have not adopted the FIDO (Fuck It, Drive On) mindset -- at least not entirely.
"It could easily go that route," he says. "I'm not denying it's a problem. We hear rumblings. There are only 10 people on foot patrol in 51. That definitely raises officer safety issues."
The police, meanwhile, have been unable to make any headway in any of the shootings in Regent Park. The cops say residents have clammed up. The residents say the cops don't care.
Keith Forde, the force's highest-ranking black officer and community policing liaison, says there are no easy answers. He has two sons on the job, one of them at 51 Division. The events of recent weeks have been the topic of conversation every night at the dinner table, he says. Forde has suddenly found himself in the role of peacemaker between Regent Park residents and police.
But despite his good intentions, even Forde spouts the company line. "I think what we have is an equitable distribution of resources across the city," he says.
But when he was unit commander at 11 Division in an area of town that encompasses another trouble spot, Parkdale, Forde had permanent foot patrols on the street. It was a smashing success, considered the best this city has ever firstname.lastname@example.org