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Sweeping up Bellevue: Community lukewarm over month-long blitz

December 15th, 2010 · No Comments

Bellevue Square Park was the site of a month-long crime blitz this fall. Perry King/Gleaner News

By Perry King

Out of the 68 arrests that were made in a Kensington-area drug blitz, police Sergeant Jeff Zammit remembers one arrest that bothered him.

“We dealt with one guy that was trafficking, and he was with a woman and a baby in a stroller—it was his girlfriend—while he was selling,” said Zammit, who is a part of 14 Division’s community response unit.

“He said, ‘You know, I know I sell weed, but it’s not serious. Why don’t you go after the crackheads?’”

Targeting street level drug dealers of marijuana was the main focus of a crime blitz in Bellevue Square Park. 14 Division began preparing for the blitz this spring as a result of concerns raised by local businesses and residents at a 14 Division community police liaison committee meeting. It lasted from mid-September to mid-October.

Coordinated by Sergeant Daren Halman, 40 plainclothes and uniformed officers were present in the park, following up on tips.

Police also cracked down on other illegal conduct. “It’s not strictly drugs [we were enforcing], it was alcohol, dogs off their leash, and people breaking smoking bylaws—people were smoking beside a kid’s area,” said Zammit.

After 14 Division reported an initial 55 arrests on Sept. 28, Halman updated that number to 68 at a community police liaison meeting Oct. 13.

Police have laid various charges, including Trafficking in Marijuana, Possession Marijuana, Assault Police, Proceeds of Crime, Fail to Comply Probation, Fail to Comply Recognizance, Fail to Appear Court, and Possession of Ecstasy. Police is withholding information about the accused, including names, ages and future court dates.

Through their sources, 14 Division was also able to execute a drug seizure at an Augusta Avenue home. With the help of the Toronto Drug Squad, about $1 million in marijuana was seized. “They seized a large quantity of plants, which we believe was supplying the area as well,” said Zammit.

The search warrant, which applied to several homes in the neighbourhood, was executed Sept. 29. It was one of a dozen citywide search warrants issued as a part of Project Shuffle, a separate police drug enforcement blitz that began in July. 14 Division solely executed the 14 Division blitz.

The month long blitz was the first in the market since 2009. That year, two blitzes were undertaken. In July 2009, Project Escape saw plainclothes officers arrest 76 street dealers primarily in Kensington, but also on King, Queen and Dundas streets. Project Escape was also prompted by neighbourhood complaints. Besides marijuana, cocaine, hashish, heroin and oxycontin were seized. Many of the people arrested had previous convictions. In the fall, Project Sunshine arrested 60 street dealers in Kensington and other major downtown areas.

But the police and the community still see a “revolving door” of drug problems. “I find the problem with Kensington Market is that people think it’s carte blanche to smoke and sell marijuana in that area. They think it’s like a drug zone, when in fact it is illegal to use it or sell it,” said Zammit.

Some members in the community seem less than pleased with the blitz. “If the police walked a beat like they used to, instead of staying in their cars all the time, the city would be a much safer place,” wrote Grey Coyote, of Kensington Market Action Committee in an email.

“Kensington is far from the only area of the city with problems. We are diverse and unique and St. Stephen’s feeds hundreds of homeless people every day. As long as they are doing that, we are going to have a higher than average crime rate.”

Others recognize the drug problem, but say it is a part of what defines the neighbourhood.

“I think there are eyes on us at all times,” said Mika Beraket, who chairs the Kensington Market BIA. “Yeah, there are drugs in the market, particularly in Bellevue Square, but that’s part of the culture here. I’ve never felt frightened walking through that park. I felt more frightened walking on College Street, with all those high heels parading around.”

Recognizing a need to improve safety, the BIA is considering capital funding for improved street lighting at night. Those plans will be explored in the new year.

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