Rob Ford Photo by CHEOL JOON BAEK
At 23 Division on Friday, June 14, in the aftermath of Project Traveller, the latest police blitz to corral alleged bad guys, the emphasis was on restoring our faith that the department is doing everything in its power to keep vulnerable communities safe from gun violence.
Deputy Chief Peter Sloly, the highest-ranking non-white on the force, took the podium to declare once again the force's commitment to community-building. At the same time, he tried to put out the firestorm over the police's massive show of force at the Dixon high-rise towers in north Etobicoke, ground zero in the ongoing Rob Ford crack video scandal.
"We are going to make sure that the gang that has been dismantled doesn't come back, and we will make sure that a new gang doesn't form in the vacuum of the one that has just been disrupted," he said. "We are also going to make sure that the community feels safer and is safe, not just for a few days, weeks or months."
Omar Farouk, president of the International Muslim Organization, was on hand to support cops' efforts.
"We slept a little more peacefully last night knowing that the police are risking their lives to protect us. We are a very diversified community, with peaceful and loving people, and we need Toronto police." Later, in a foyer away from the cameras after taking a handful of questions from reporters, Farouk had little to say about the fallout over the raids among locals, declining to take any more questions.
Local commander Superintendent Ron Taverner announced the establishment of Operation Clean Slate, which he called "a strategic initiative to go into the community and deal with the issues the community faces, including crime, disorder and the quality of life."
Taverner also announced that a mobile police unit would be set up at the Dixon high-rises "for the next 72 hours and possibly longer," as if that cursory presence alone would help establish the "meaningful dialogue... trust and relationships" the superintendent says his cops have been building in the Somali community.
Taverner is described by some as a legend in community policing. Others are not so sure, pointing to the fact he's a rare holdover from the Fantino regime, which was at best lukewarm on community policing.
Amid last week's drama it was easy to lose sight of the mess our mayor has made of the policing file in general.
Is there a strategy? Where the Ford admin is concerned, it's hard to make that case, given the contradictory messages it's been sending - on the one hand giving cops a honkin' pay raise, on the other imposing hiring freezes that have had the direct effect of killing police foot patrols in high-crime areas. What programs we do have left are mostly holdovers from the Miller era.
Indeed. Mohamed Gilao, a community worker in the Dixon neighbourhood who crashed Friday's presser, said residents were traumatized by Thursday's show of force. They're angry about government's failure to address the root causes of poverty and unemployment and don't want to end up discussing another raid a year from now.
Gilao says the police presence in the community has been "very poor. We have been asking and always advocating that we need more preventative programs and a police presence in our neighbourhood."
He says the community "has been very hurt" by media references to "Somali gangs and drug dealers. Our children are born here. They are not Somali. They're Canadian. Those children have the same rights as any other Canadians. We have earned [the right] to be [called] Canadians."
It was all reminiscent of the force's PR effort last summer, loosely dubbed the Summer of the Gun part two, when reporters were summoned to 23 to take in the most shining example of community policing - the Cool Tool School program. Back then, local kids were taken through some basics in the art of drywalling for the peering television cameras. The mayor's mother and brother Doug were on hand to show some love.
The media throng was kept occupied this time around with the cache of guns from the Project Traveller haul, shoebox-size bricks of cash ($572K in total) and a helpful officer from Guns and Gangs who posed for photos with the hardware.
Still, there was no getting around the stink hanging in the air from the raids' link to the mayor's crack-related problems, and Chief Bill Blair's back-flips to avoid answering those questions directly.
On that front there were more revelations to suggest the flames from the ring of fire encircling the mayor are getting higher and hotter.
The two other men in that now-infamous photo of him with murder victim Anthony Smith were both scooped up in the raid. Mohammad Khattak, who was injured in the shooting incident that killed Smith last March, was charged with participating in a criminal organization and marijuana trafficking. Monir Kasim, who hadn't been identified until now, was charged with three counts of participation in a criminal organization, among other charges. All three men are allegedly members of the Dixon City Bloods.
Also according to published reports (which the police have refused to confirm or deny to NOW): a search warrant was issued for the Windsor Drive address in Etobicoke where Ford's old high school chum Fabio Basso lives, and in front of which the photo was taken. But that warrant was not executed.
Staff Superintendent Jim Ramer could not or would not say if a May 21 home invasion at the address (reportedly related to the Ford video) is part of the investigation. At this point, it may not require much of an imagination to connect the dots.
Welcome to Toronto the Good, where the line between good and evil has been scarily blurred thanks to the latest scandal enveloping our mayor. It seems he prefers to run with the bad characters in this growing tale.
The meta-message at Blair's high-noon presser Thursday, June 13: the chief's got the city's back; it's not going the way of Baltimore on his watch.
Though given many opportunities, Blair refused to deny that the mayor is under investigation. Asked point blank, he waffled and danced.
If the mayor is not under investigation, wouldn't Blair simply say so? Why cloud the issue? Blair's refusal to exonerate him may be the latest move in a game of Russian roulette the two have been playing since Ford took office.
Blair suggested at one point that the cops may indeed have the video everyone wants to see.
To quote: "I want to assure the people of Toronto that all of the evidence collected during this investigation has been secured and it will be presented by the prosecuting Crown attorney at trial. All of the evidence will come out in court, where it belongs."
But that could take years. Blair might be gone by then. Ford? Who knows?
Could Blair's stance be an elaborate smokescreen?
There were conflicting reports on whether the Project Traveller raid had anything to do with the Ford video. Some cops quoted at the scene said it was, others that it wasn't.
A CTV reporter broadcasting from police headquarters minutes before the chief's presser quoted one high-ranking unnamed police source as saying the Ford video was not a target.
But even as Blair was doing his utmost not to address specifics on that front, anonymous police sources were leaking news to several media outlets that the cops knew about the crack video weeks ago, before Gawker and the Star broke the story.
The police department is notorious for its fiefdoms. And right now the chief is having his own problems reining in rogue elements among his troops. He took the unusual step of sending a video to divisions a few months back to slam the bad behaviour of "idiots" among the rank and file discrediting the uniform.
Historically the force has tended to take on the personality of the guy sitting in the mayor's chair.
Thursday's presser restored a little faith that the good guys are on the case. On that, time was quickly running out for the chief.