I went to the protest in front of 55 Division on July 6, and found the story of Mark Austin resonated with me. Not because I’ve been the victim of racial discrimination, but because I too have been assaulted, multiple times, only to have 55 Division take no action. And it seems to be a common story.
The first time I was assaulted was by a drunk person with mental health issues (I only learned that later) on Queen St. Despite giving him a wide berth he shoved me on the sidewalk, and when I called him on it he got belligerent. When he got right in my face reeking of beer and spittle flying at me I yelled for him to back off, at which point he grabbed me. I grabbed him back and threw him away from me and called the police. Somewhere in the 5 second scuffle my ear was ripped and was bleeding.
Despite the sound of him in the background yelling at me the police clearly saw no urgency and showed up 20 mins later. As I was advised not to follow him, he was long gone when the police did arrive. They saw my ear, did not take any pictures, and took a bare bones statement. They did not speak to the witnesses who saw it happen and waited with me.
I then turned to social media, drawing a picture of my assaulter that very night, and got a hit. Locals knew his name and even exactly where he lived and had stories of his other disruptions. I relayed all this information to the police, their response? “He’s known to us.” And that was it, they took no further action.
The second time I was assaulted was when a young woman nearly caused an accident with me driving recklessly on her e-bike. When I called her out she punched me in the face. Yes, a 20-something woman punched me in the face in broad daylight at Wineva and Queen. Now, this assault did get the proper attention but I believe the only reason was because it was very public, multiple witnesses helped me detain the woman as she tried to flee the scene, and a detective just happened to be getting a coffee at Juice & Java and came out to see the commotion. This time they did take pictures of my bruised eye, they did take action against the woman, although they convinced me not to press charges if she gave an apology. I agreed, but it was the lamest apology ever, “I’m sorry my driving scared you.” Pfft, but whatever, the police actually acted.
Third time I was assaulted was by an Amazon driver! In his entitled mind he thought it was ok to park on Woodbine facing the wrong way and blocking the bike lane when he had AN ENTIRE ROW of available parking right where he blocked the lane. He literally could have just pulled in three feet to the left and we would never have spoken. I railed on him for blocking the lane when he has available parking right there, of course he cared not. I slapped my hand on his van window as I angrily went around him, and he saw that as justification for running after me, grabbing me from behind, and yanking me off my bicycle in the street. I turned around and asked him what the hell he thinks he’s doing? Then he asked me to fight! I stared at him in disbelief, and said, “That’s assault, I’m calling the police”.
Well, as you might guess, there was complete reluctance to do anything. I gave them all the info, all they asked was, “Are you injured? No? We’ll see if there’s anyone in the area.” And that was it. A man felt entitled to pull me bodily from my bike onto the street because I slapped my palm on his illegally parked company vehicle, and I guess he is entitled to act that way, because clearly there are no consequences to such actions.
I’m not alone in this observation. Through my various interactions with people around the neighbourhood over the years I’ve heard a few stories of 55 Division officers simply not wanting to follow up on assaults, brushing them off and refusing to take any further action.
As one less egregious but very appropriate example, this past weekend I was on the beach. For the sake of the officer I will leave out details that might identify them (despite my extreme disappointment with their behaviour). The beach was super busy, as it has been this last month since restrictions started lifting and people felt comfortable to venture out. A motorized boat illegally pulled into the swimming area inside the buoys and came up to the shore. Now thankfully there was no incident, but all day long I watched toddlers, including my own, frolicking in the shallows. I was incensed the boaters felt they were entitled to violate that space with their boat, and this happened to be very close to where a man drowned a couple weeks ago. I knew from earlier an officer was close by and went to speak to them.
Well, this officer was busy the last half hour lounging on a park bench on the boardwalk chatting with some people that seemed like friends of theirs. And I mean LOUNGING, they had their arms spread wide and were pretty much reclined on the bench. I approached and told the officer a motorized boat had illegally pulled into the swimming area. Well to my consternation all I got was resistance from the officer, “Well, did anything happen?” they asked.
“No,” I replied, “but they’re not supposed to be there, it’s a swimming area inside the buoys, no motorized vehicles allowed.”
“Come on,” the officer took another tack, “Everyone’s just trying to have a good time.”
At this point my frustration was becoming clear, as I said, “It doesn’t matter, that’s where small children swim, including my toddler son.” With VERY obvious reluctance the officer pulled themselves off the bench to go check it out. They then spent the next 20 mins chatting amicably with the boaters, after which the boat driver, alone without a spotter (the other boater got off on the beach), backed out from the beach using their motor and went on their way. I regularly snorkel in that area, thank goodness no one was in the path of that boat as it backed out. My extended family witnessed this behaviour with me and were equally appalled.
As one last strange example, I once had the police show up at my door. My wife and I were protesting a neighbour chopping down a mature tree, because the posted reason was “poor location”, which simply sounds like the owner didn’t like the fact they bought a house with an 80 year old willow tree in their yard. Despite the fact I had never threatened or even spoken to this person face-to-face, they somehow convinced the police I was some kind of threat and needed to be spoken to. They showed up at my door, talked to me for a few minutes, then went on their way. What baffles me is why are the police willing to show up at my door when I’ve done nothing wrong, whereas it seems difficult to get them to follow up on actual crimes? Could it be that the person who called the police is a home owner and everyone I know who’s been ignored are renters? What does it take to convince the police to check on someone who’s done nothing wrong when they refuse to investigate people who are in fact committing crimes?
Now, I know this behaviour is not indicative of the TPS as a whole, nor even of police in general. I know some excellent, highly ethical, and principled police officers, my brother for one, who would never dream of acting like that while on duty. I’ve also heard through my police connections that in the TPS itself other divisions see 55 as more or less the slackers of the TPS, which seems to support the behaviour residents are witnessing. I can’t speak for other divisions, but it would seem 55 Division has a long history of not wanting to follow up on certain crimes.
Is there an explanation for this behaviour that’s not being relayed to the public? Is this common in other areas? The possible reasons that come to my mind are perhaps:
- Officers know from experience that certain crimes without ample witnesses are incredibly hard to prosecute, and so are a waste of their time and the courts
- Officers know how overloaded the courts are and perhaps have been instructed to do their best to avoid taking actions that will result in more time in court
- Officers know how incredibly strained their time and budgets are and are forced to make decisions as to what will get attention and what is less serious and has to be let go
Or, worst case scenarios:
- Officers know the extra paperwork involved and simply avoid doing the work
- Officers do not want to spend their shift doing all the interviewing and leg work
Whatever the explanation is, the people deserve to hear it. There is an expectation that our police service actually fulfills their function as serving the people by upholding the law, and when that expectation is left unfulfilled time and again, people are left angry and disenfranchised.
What I heard at that protest, and how I’ve felt as well, is that our police are not listening to us and not communicating with us either. We are left in the dark feeling helpless, powerless, and unprotected. Perhaps this would not be so if more officers actually lived in the areas they police, perhaps there is more at play than the public is aware of and there are deeper issues unbeknownst to us. Problem is, we don’t know, there is an ongoing lack of action that is left unexplained.
We need police; they are the backbone of a just and equal society. But when it starts to feel like they aren’t there for us, that there seems to be justice for some but not all, it breeds contempt and anger and disillusionment. If there are deeper problems holding the police back, whether lack of funding or time, they need to be honest, but if it turns out there is a culture of police unilaterally deciding when and whom to police, that needs to be outed as well. We cannot move forward without trust and understanding, and 55 Division and the TPS need to appreciate the optics of refusing to investigate or prosecute crimes in our neighbourhood.