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Parks after dark

October 29th, 2012 · No Comments

Police and city staff aim to keep parks safe after hours

By Victoria Prouse

Increased complaints about after-hours disturbances in neighbourhood parks are a telltale sign of summer for Toronto Police 14 Division. To combat this situation, 14 Division’s Community Response Unit has implemented a special parks initiative, which began in April and runs until September.

According to Staff Sergeant Darren Halman, in responding to complaints that include illegal drug use, alcohol consumption, animals running off their leashes, and people sleeping in the parks at night, 14 Division has adopted a two-pronged approach to ensuring Toronto’s parks are welcoming and safe for all. While offences including drug and alcohol use result in immediate charges and the issuing of tickets, transgressions like allowing dogs off their leashes are initially resolved by educating individuals about park rules and regulations.

“They’ll go somewhere else … If we’re moving people along, for example, from Bellevue Square, they would move to Scadding Court”

—Staff Sergeant Darren Halman, 14 Division

Halman identified Bellevue Square Park in Kensington Market as a particularly problematic site. “We are certainly going to monitor that area for the next little while,” he said in a telephone interview.

Despite Toronto parks being closed to visitors after midnight, officers patrolling this park clear people out on a nightly basis.

According to Halman, the fundamental problem with this method of dealing with individuals in parks after-hours is that following eviction from a park, these individuals tend to simply move to an adjacent park.

This issue is “unfortunately a reality” said Halman. “They’ll go somewhere else … If we’re moving people along, for example, from Bellevue Square, they would move to Scadding Court.”

To counteract what Halman identifies as a “revolving door” pattern, the Community Response Unit undergoes a comprehensive sweep of area parks. “We won’t just go to one park, we’ll go to six or seven parks in the area.”

A supplementary endeavour established to secure the safety of Toronto’s parks is the City of Toronto’s Park Ambassador Program (PAP). This endeavour is quite different from 14 Division’s Parks Initiative, as it focuses on addressing the root causes of undesirable behaviour in parks.

Troy Ford is the City of Toronto’s Park Ambassador. Both his supervisor, Richard Ubbens, parks director at the City of Toronto, and Halman describe Ford’s work as highly generative.

“Troy does a lot of work [in Bellevue Square] and he works with us regularly,” said Halman. “He goes in and meets [loiterers] at their level, establishes a relationship with them, talks about appropriate behaviour in parks, and escalates that as necessary,” said Ubbens in a telephone interview.

According to Ubbens, the PAP works concurrently with the City of Toronto’s Streets to Homes Program, which delivers street outreach and housing assistance to marginally-housed people throughout the city. It seeks to help find permanent housing and subsequently provide the supports they require to remain in their homes.

Ubbens characterizes after-hours park disturbances as “part of a bigger problem.” He cautioned against depicting it as a “nuisance” issue, emphasizing how it indicates systemic issues that need to be addressed. He said it reflects the fact that these people need to be connected to the right services to address the acute health issues and social service needs that frequently plague them.

Ubbens said that although bylaw infractions are much more frequent than Park Ambassador requests, the significance of this initiative cannot be underestimated. He was careful to emphasize the difference between Parks Ambassador issues and bylaw enforcement infractions.

“If it’s illegal activity, the police can obviously move in and charge people … For the most part, [the PAP] is dealing with parts of society that aren’t so well connected.”

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