[Hpn] OCAP/ARA watch police watch homeless

Graeme Bacque gbacque@idirect.com
Wed, 24 May 2000 17:47:18 -0400


www.eye.net

  EYE Magazine, Toronto, May 25, 2000


  Watching the detectives

  Controversial Community Action
  Policing program comes under citizen
  surveillance

  BY TOM LYONS

  When Community Action Policing
  (CAP)was introduced to Toronto last year,
  politicians promised the program would
  clean up street crime in city trouble spots,
  while street-level activists branded it as
  little more than unconstitutional
  harassment of the poor.

  The debate will reopen next month, when
  the CAP program commences its second year -- armed with new
  powers under the province's far-reaching Safe Streets Act.
  But this time, activists promise, police will come under
  surveillance themselves from three different groups hoping
  to turn public opinion against target-policing programs.

  Last summer's CAP program was a "tremendous success," according
  to its operational commander, Inspector Randal Munroe. In his
  final report to the Toronto Police Services Board, Munroe says
  the "pro-active" police patrols through "target areas" had
  lowered crime rates, protected residents, pleased the
  business community and bolstered police morale.

  The report, delivered on May 1, noted that some social
  agencies had complained that CAP "targeted the poor,
  homeless, street youth, aboriginal and/or people facing
  mental health issues."

  But this "negative perception" was due to a
  "misunderstanding of the program's objectives," says
  Munroe's report. The poor people themselves hadn't
  complained, the report said. Indeed, CAP officers had
  actually "checked on the well-being of persons living
  on the street."

  Similarly, the "intimidating interrogation[s] and
  identification checks" the advocacy groups deplored
  were merely friendly "stop and chat" sessions.

  Angered that their complaints about target policing were
  dismissed, and furious that the evaluation of CAP was
  left to CAP itself, activists are taking matters into
  their own hands this summer.

  Street-level "cop watches" will monitor police conduct.
  At the same time, activists are pursuing a Charter challenge
  against the Safe Streets Act on the grounds that it grants
  unconstitutional powers to both CAP and regular police
  officers to harass and imprison the poor.

  Three "cop watch" programs will operate this summer, run by
  Anti-Racist Action (ARA), the Ontario Coalition Against
  Poverty (OCAP) and the Committee to Stop Target Policing (CSTP).

  Two of the programs -- ARA's Copwatch and OCAP's Target Police
  -- are new and involve street-level monitoring of police by
  volunteers armed with cameras, notepads and a database of
  information on officers in the downtown core (14, 51 and 52
  Divisions).

  The database has been compiled over the past three years by
  OCAP members, largely from information gleaned from tickets
  issued by police to street youth and the homeless. People who
  receive tickets for such offences as squeegeeing, panhandling
  or loitering drop them off at social-service agencies. The
  tickets are generally forwarded to OCAP, or occasionally to
  defence lawyers, both of whom fight the tickets in court for
  free.

  "If [the police] want to bring the fight to the courtroom, we
  can meet them there," says Sue Collis, an OCAP organizer.
  "But we're also prepared to meet them on the street."

  The group's Target Police program, she says, will be a mirror
  image of the city's programs. "It's the same philosophy. They're
  targeting a group of people, and we have a lot of information
  about them [the police] now. We have their names, we have their
  numbers. We know their shifts. We know what corners they frequent.
  And they can be expected to be followed on the beat. We're
  collecting photographs, so that names, numbers and photographs
  will be available for public use. And we have our own list of
  repeat offenders -- officers who write tickets again and again,
  or who seem to track one individual and ticket them several days
  in a row."

  Harry Pifold, an organizer of the ARA Copwatch, says his project
  will draw on the OCAP database, using some OCAP volunteers. But
  he stresses that it will be modelled on ARA Copwatch programs in
  American cities.

  "At the very least, we're going to have 50 people doing shifts
  on a regular basis over the summer," says Pifold. "Each shift
  will be a group of around 10 people, and there will be different
  roles. The scout will ride around on a bicycle, as a lookout.
  There's the role of note-taker. And we have two video cameras.
  So there will be people videotaping the whole situation from
  two perspectives."

  Pifold says ARA Copwatch volunteers are prepared to undergo
  arrest and imprisonment, if necessary.

  "In other places where cop watches have been done, the police
  have gone out of their way to charge people with just about
  anything," he says. "For jaywalking, for swearing in public,
  for being drunk when the person isn't. Police, when they feel
  threatened or confronted, often overreact. What the police
  choose to charge us with is really beyond our control. And I
  think there's a good possibility that we might be arrested.
  But that's a risk that most of the people are willing to take."

  The third police-monitoring program, the Copwatch Hotline, was
  set up last fall by the Committee to Stop Target Policing in
  conjunction with Parkdale Community Legal Service. The line
  (531-2411 x: 263) receives complaints about police misconduct,
  and will operate through the summer. A preliminary report on
  calls to the hotline is tentatively scheduled for the second
  week of June, to coincide with the start of this year's CAP
  program.

  "It was getting more calls in the fall, and then it slowed
  down," says one of the hotline co-ordinators, Samuel Godfrey,
  a student lawyer at Parkdale Legal and a member of the CSTP.
  "Unfortunately, it's not really representative of what's going
  on out there. We got a lot of calls from people who have been
  badly mistreated by the police, but they haven't been the
  people we originally set out to reach -- homeless people and
  squeegee youth. But it's been quite an eye-opening experience,
  hearing call after call, person after person."

  Target-policing programs in Ontario have a new weapon in the
  Harris government's Safe Streets Act, passed in December, 1999.
  The Tory law is modelled on similar legislation passed in more
  than 20 American cities in the '90s. It outlaws squeegeeing
  and "aggressive" begging, and was championed by police and
  civic leaders, but denounced as unconstitutional by
  civil-liberties groups and social activists.

  Peter Rosenthal, a Toronto defence lawyer, will likely launch
  the first constitutional challenge of the Safe Streets Act on
  June 13, when he is scheduled to defend a client who was
  charged under the Act.

  "In my view, it violates a large number of sections of the
  Constitution," explains Rosenthal. "The Constitution has a
  division of powers between the provinces and the federal
  government, which is responsible for enacting the criminal
  law. And the Act is, I think, an attempt by the province to
  enact criminal law, and that would be contrary to the
  Constitution.

  "Then, in my view, it violates a number of sections of the
  Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It violates the right to
  freedom of expression, under Section 2. It violates the
  Section 7 right to life, liberty and security of the person.
  And it violates Section 15, the right to equality. It's
  discriminatory against poor people, in my view.

  "It is a political act. And surrounding discussions suggest
  that it was motivated by the government's desire to appeal to
  people who find beggars distasteful. It makes it impossible
  to beg in this city."

  The final CAP report says the program recorded over 25,000
  "stop and chats" and reports filed on pedestrians -- the
  overwhelming majority of whom were not charged with any crime
  -- but Rosenthal says it would be difficult to launch a
  charter challenge against the practice, because it was
  theoretically voluntary.

  "What the police have going for them is that most people
  don't realize their rights. If somebody in uniform comes up
  and says, 'Hey, you, what's your name?' Most people think,
  'Jeez, I better tell them.' But the fact is, except in certain
  circumstances, you don't have to answer."

     1991-2000 eye