Some thoughts on guns and gangs.

About 75% of shootings in Toronto are gang related. For most Weston Web readers that means little – we’re ok because we most of us don’t live in a gang neighbourhood. For those living in public housing, the fear is real. Many (especially black and male) young people are unable to travel to other neighbourhoods for fear of the consequences of straying into gang territory.

The Mayor and Police Chief can often be found behind a podium expressing dismay at a shooting event and lamenting that while everything is being done, there are no easy answers. At the same time, the head of the police union tells the public that there is an easy answer: more cops; while others want a return to provincially funded programs such as TAVIS.

From the Toronto Star.

This might be wrong on all counts except for the number of cops.  Manchester in the U.K has a similar population to ours and has over a thousand more officers and hundreds more support staff. Manchester’s murder rate (a reliable crime indicator) is 2.44 per 100,000 people compared to 3.11 in Toronto. Incidentally, Chicago – a similar sized city to Toronto and Manchester had a murder rate of 23.8 in 2018.

We’ve known for a while what needs to be done but it’s not easy. Solving this multi-faceted  problem is hard, requires brave and intelligent public officials, doesn’t work overnight and it’s expensive in the short term.

Here’s what we know about gangs.

A gang can provide:

  • a surrogate family.
  • perceived safety and protection.
  • a path to money, success and respect.
  • an outlet for frustration and anger.
  • membership in a community.

Successfully combatting the lure of a gang requires more attractive alternatives and young people need to acquire the education and skills that will allow them to choose a more mainstream lifestyle.

More traditional policing is not the only answer. It’s the difference between treating the symptoms of an illness or actually getting at the cause.

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders recently announced a $4.5 million, 11-week program aimed at reducing gun violence. Presumably after 11 weeks, the matter will be taken care of and we can all go back to sleep. In fairness, Chief Saunders is in a tough spot. Every politician is expecting him to do something but without permanent funding, he’s stuck with applying band-aids for short periods of time. As an aside; anyone who can come in to work during home dialysis and after a kidney transplant has my respect.

Clearly we’re at another crisis point and not enough is being done. The Ford government is well on its way to guaranteeing that gang violence will continue. Cuts to the minimum wage and vital services like education, health, housing and school repairs will cause the most damage in poorer neighbourhoods which is where gangs thrive.

From The Hamilton Spectator.

Yes, the Ford government truly knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. Here’s an example – instead of allowing the minimum wage to rise from $14 to $15, Ford froze the wage at $14 and promised that minimum wage earners would get a (pitiful) tax break. In effect, the Ford government now subsidizes companies who pay low wages (thus increasing the deficit) yet complains that the government spends too much. Deep thinkers at the Ontario Chamber of Commerce predicted that a minimum wage rise from $11.60 to $14 would ramp up unemployment, the cost of living and would lower profits. In fact inflation didn’t budge, unemployment went down while tax revenues and profits were up. It’s counter intuitive but ‘evidence’ apparently doesn’t fit the C of C / Tory dogma. And in the meantime, a living wage is further out of reach, putting more people at risk of choosing a life of crime.

Is the solution to crime putting more people in jail? Yes for violent criminals as their incarceration protects society. Putting people in jail is expensive and surprisingly it does little to discourage crime. For example, the U.S. locks up more of its population than anywhere else on earth yet the murder rate is 5.3 per 100,000 compared to Canada’s 1.8 (2017 figures).  By all means put hardened criminals in jail and reject bail for those accused of a violent crime; however, in the long run, diverting people into better lifestyles benefits society as a whole – and it’s a lot cheaper than jail.

Yes; answers to gang violence take intelligence, political courage and money. These commodities are sadly lacking when it comes to tackling the problem. The public also needs to support the police; get involved and stop protecting criminals.

From The Denver Post.
What the research says we need to do:
  1. Educate parents on the signs of children’s gang involvement.
  2. Disempower gangs through infiltration, police presence and education to make membership in a gang less appealing.
  3. Increase penalties for smuggling and possession of unlicensed / unregistered guns.
  4. Provide more community facilities so that young people can gather safely.
  5. Publicize the 222 TIPS and rewards program.
  6. Increase the minimum wage to liveable levels and keep it tied to inflation.
  7. Provide incentives for top teachers and administrators to work in challenging schools.
  8. Deny public housing / housing subsidies to known gang members. Evict tenants who accommodate known gang members.
  9. Similar ideas from Mark Towhey here.
Guns.

Somehow, the great thinkers south of the border have convinced themselves (and gullible others) that the answer to gun crime is more guns. Thanks to a bizarre misinterpretation of the Second Amendment of the U.S. constitution, the right to bear arms is enshrined. Naturally, when our neighbour is overflowing with firearms, many make their way here. Handguns being relatively easy to hide are smuggled most often. We also have legitimate collectors and target shooters whose collections are burgled adding to our gun problem.

There has been much talk of a handgun ban in Toronto. Without border guards at the entrances to the city, this is a non-starter. The federal government needs to have the courage to do this nation-wide. There are few compelling reasons for private citizens to own a gun. In the U.S. the most likely victim of a gun in a house is the owner or a family member. There’s no reason to believe that Canada is any different.

Pro Tip: if you know someone with a gun, you can call 222 TIPS and get rewarded if your tip results in a gun being confiscated ($500) or a crime being solved ($50 – $2000). There is absolute confidentiality – even to the point of the (cash) payment.

Gun buy-back program is deeply flawed.

Image result for gun amnesty
From myespanolanow.com

Toronto police and politicians would like to get guns off the streets. Quite correctly, the thinking is that reducing the number of guns in the city will reduce crime.

In response to this, Toronto Police are currently operating a gun buy-back program that will continue until May 17. The idea is to pay cash ($200 – $350) for guns so that they can’t be used in criminal acts. On the surface, this sounds like a good idea. Could such a program reduce the number of guns in criminal hands? Sadly, not the way Toronto’s doing it.

Residents wishing to participate are asked to call police to come to their residence and pick up a surplus weapon(s). Criminals having second thoughts about a life of crime are not likely to do this. Since the program is targeting legally held guns, the only people likely to participate are collectors and owners who want to make a bit of extra cash.

Sadly, the vast number of guns in the wrong hands will remain where they are, untouched by the program.

If the City and Toronto Police are serious about getting guns out of criminal hands, they need to hold a gun amnesty. Other police forces have done this; there’s no need to re-invent the wheel.

As it stands, the current buy-back plan is laughable.

Local man graduates from police college

Shevan Ellis in his cadet’s uniform.

Congratulations to local man Shevan Ellis who graduated from the Toronto Police College last week and is now working as a police constable in Toronto Police’s 53 Division. According to toronto.com, Mr. Ellis came to the Weston Road and Eglinton area from Jamaica in 1998 at the age of 12. He worked in Mount Dennis in the field of mental health and thought that he had something to offer the police in terms of an understanding of mental health issues.

Read more in TPS news and toronto.com.

New police action plan released

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders. (From cbc.ca)

The Way Forward was a catchy title used to describe best practices in Canadian palliative care, fostering success and innovation in Newfoundland and Labrador and as of today, the name of a report from Toronto Police. The report was seen to be a necessary response to a crisis of confidence in the force, the growing cost of policing and the need to adopt more modern policing methods.

It’s interesting that the public has known about the problems with Toronto Police for years. They  have known about the lack of involvement in communities, an overly belligerent response to situations requiring intelligence and finesse and a large body of evidence that police treat certain visible minorities differently. The cost of policing was also an issue that had risen relentlessly in the past few years. When Rob Ford ordered a pay freeze, then Chief Bill Blair just ignored him. Mayor Tory was able to appoint his own candidate as Chief and Mark Saunders has delivered the required report.

In addition to knowing about the problems, the public has known for a long time what the solutions were. Namely that police officers should become more visible, get out of the cruisers, crack down on gangs and gun crime, walk the beat and treat all people with respect. To some extent, there seems to be a willingness in the report to do this.

While the police should have a base in the community, large fortress police stations could be replaced by several storefronts. Nothing in the report suggests that this will change other than closing some stations.

The lucrative after-hours job of paid duty now sees 80% of cops on the Sunshine List. These jobs, such as supervising road works, could be done for a lot less by others. The report tackles this to some extent.

Police forces are notoriously difficult to turn around. Part of the problem is that the qualification to apply for the job is a mere Grade 12 diploma – a requirement unlikely to attract deep thinkers. Another is the overwhelmingly male (>80%) and white (>75%) component to the force. Yet another is the complete lack of psychological profiling for suitability. Nothing in the report suggests that this will change.

Training needs to be beefed up with the emphasis on the safety of the job – very few police officers are killed or injured compared to construction workers for example. In spite of this many officers react in situations where they show fear rather than courage and the consequences can be deadly for the public. There are several mentions of increased training in the report.

Will the new report turn things around? It’s nice to see that there is a set of specific recommendations that are time and performance based so that’s a good thing. The bad thing is that although the recommendations have timelines, many are vague and require more discussion and study. Look for little or no change on these.

Here are the recommendations in the report:

Recommendations 1-8 (Click to enlarge).
Recommendations 9-13 (Click to enlarge).
Recommendations 14-16 (Click to enlarge).
Recommendations 17-21 (Click to enlarge).
Recommendations 23-25 (Click to enlarge).

Let’s hope that real change is coming.

Read the official report summary here and the full report here.

 

Fantasy, meet reality

After Adam and I wrote articles about having to be careful when interpreting data, this Toronto Police graph came to my attention. It’s part of their ‘Way Forward’ initiative, already covered, that seeks input from Toronto residents about the future of policing.

Screen Shot 2016-08-17 at 11.22.43 PM
Click to enlarge.

The chart is breathtaking in its deceptiveness and misrepresents the true levels of crime in these cities. The authors seem to want people to interpret the graph to the effect that New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago have lower crime levels than Toronto. The fine print at the bottom basically informs readers that the statistics are meaningless but who cares, the bars have probably done their job.

For those interested, and again, murder being the best indicator of violent crime levels since there’s no ambiguity about a murder – they are almost always reported, here are the same cities’ murder rates in 2013, the middle year used in the police chart, so we can compare apples to apples.

20160818043023Let’s resolve that ‘The Way Forward’ should not be to mislead, or indeed to believe that Torontonians are stupid.

Police want your feedback.

As part of the community consultation process, Toronto Police would like to hear from citizens about changes to policing and the modernizing process. Here is their request:

Have Your Say

Community Consultation poster with meeting datesThe Transformational Task Force was created by Chief of Police Mark Saunders and the Chair of the Police Services Board Andrew Pringle to modernize policing in our City. The Task Force’s Interim Report, released on June 16, 2016, incorporates the views and experiences of a number of community members.

Both Chief Saunders and Chair Pringle have made it clear though, that a wider engagement strategy is needed in order to hear the voices of the residents of Toronto. Your views and experiences are valuable not only to help shape the future of your police service, but also to help create the common ground that is vital to community safety.

Accordingly, we invite your input on the work of the Transformation Task Force, and more broadly, on the future of policing in Toronto.

Based on the Goals set out in the Interim Report, the following questions are offered as a guide for your input:

  1. Where do you feel the Police are needed most?
  2. How can the Police better partner with citizens, community organizations, and others to create a safer community?
  3. What are the complex safety needs currently facing the City of Toronto?

We encourage you to record your comments in a form of a video, and upload it using the form below as .mp4, .m4v, .mov, .mpg or .mpeg file.

Please limit your video to 1 min. (60 sec.) in length, at 720p or 1080p resolution.

Alternatively, you may send us your written comments via email to: [email protected]

Thank-you!

 With that in mind and more than a minute’s worth of bitching in me (and having a face for radio) I have sent in the following via email and encourage all readers to send in their own so that the needs of Weston / Mount Dennis can be represented. Readers may feel free to adapt or re-use any of this content.

1. Where do you feel the Police are needed most?

With the people. The current reactive model is inefficient and leads to isolation. There is a need for police to be visible and to mingle with all members of the community. Areas of high crime should be foot-patrolled by pairs of officers (not large groups). Establish storefront locations in the city’s high priority areas such as Weston.
Do we really need dozens of police and their cars at a crime scene? Is everyone there performing a role or is this a police version of rubbernecking? Surely there is a better way than everyone showing up to that one location?

2. How can the Police better partner with citizens, community organizations, and others to create a safer community?

Get out of the cruisers, get off the bikes and stop hanging around in gangs. Be visible and interact with the people – not with each other. Police also need to lose the siege mentality where they feel unappreciated and that everyone opposes them.
Barbecues are one-off events – large public housing complexes should be assigned an officer who will be the first line of contact for non-emergencies.
Stop seeing people as ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’. Most people are neither.
Hold more and smaller neighbourhood ‘town hall’ meetings. We don’t need the Chief to be there all the time.
Improve those cruddy summer uniforms – they look totally unprofessional.
Police need to be in closer contact with the people so that interactions are not considered unusual.
Most people don’t belong to community organizations – focus on contacting ordinary people rather than pandering to needy affinity groups.
Have regular weapon amnesties so that guns and knives can be taken out of circulation. Offer a reward for weapons that are turned in. The private sector (banks etc.) may wish to throw in some additional rewards.

3. What are the complex safety needs currently facing the City of Toronto?

People are generally very safe in this city. There is a need to emphasize that fact so that people don’t feel they are prisoners in their own homes and neighbourhoods. There is an expectation that police officers will have the courage to step in and protect ordinary citizens when needed. Police officers should understand this and either act accordingly or seek a safer role.
People should never be stopped because of racial profiling. They also need to feel that the police can be trusted to keep the peace and not escalate situations. Every society has people who are mentally ill. Police should be trained to deal with such people so that shooting them isn’t the first option when they use threatening behaviour. De-escalation of conflict situations requires skill, intelligence and sensitivity. Officers should be rigorously trained in conflict de-escalation and resolution.
There is a feeling that police have no time to deal with seemingly minor crimes. Bike and phone thefts for example are not trivial and should be taken seriously. We need creative approaches like bait bikes to send the message that police consider theft to be a serious issue.

 Once again, Weston / Mount Dennis residents, the email address is: [email protected]
Make your opinion count.

TAVIS cut deeply

The province has all-but cancelled funding to the TAVIS program that sent police to troubled areas in the wake of a violent crime spree. The TAVIS program brought cops to Weston for the three summers of 2011–2013.

TAVIS had benefits. Cops, especially cops on bikes, were more visible. They participated in community outreach and had community events. They gave a sense that people cared and were trying to put a stop to bloodshed and gunplay that seemed rampant.

But there was darkness. TAVIS police were zealous. They stopped minorities, especially young black men, at a disproportionate rate, leading to antipathy. “Engagement” became zealous enforcement and may have treaded too close to harassment.

Now, the $5 million dollar program is being cut in half, and eventually to zero. The program will be replaced, though it is not clear with what.