ACTION cops police the 'same 25 people, day in, day out,' sergeant testifies

Another of the "frequent fliers" known to Hamilton police downtown testified in court Tuesday, claiming he owes $20,000 in fines for panhandling and trespassing tickets.

One downtown panhandler was ticketed more than 250 times, ACTION trial hears

Dwight Perry, 59, testified Tuesday at the trial of four Hamilton police officers charged with obstructing justice. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

The vast majority of the people Hamilton's ACTION officers give tickets to don't have any intention of paying the fines or going to court, testified Sgt. Michael Dunham, who oversaw one of the five ACTION teams in 2014.

"Ninety per cent of the people that we dealt with, you knew you were never going to court," Dunham said. 

Unfortunately, we deal with probably the same 25 people, day in, day out, 365.- Sgt. Michael Dunham, who joined ACTION team in 2012

The people ticketed would either tell the officer they were throwing the tickets away, "or they crumpled it in a ball and put it in their pocket with the other four or five tickets," he said.

"Unfortunately, we deal with probably the same 25 people, day in, day out, 365," Dunham said.  Court heard from one downtown panhandler on the receiving end of that attention, who said he was ticketed close to 300 times.

Dunham was testifying Tuesday in a trial begun Monday where four Hamilton police officers from the ACTION and mounted units are charged with falsifying tickets in 2014. 

Constables Bhupesh Gulati, Shawn Smith, Stephen Travale and Daniel Williams are each charged with obstructing justice between April 1 and Oct. 1, 2014.

Each was also charged with fabricating between two and six tickets, and each pleaded not guilty to all charges.

(Const. Staci Tyldesley also faces related charges; those are being heard in a separate preliminary hearing that began last month.)

A window into the high-profile ACTION team

The trial so far is a window into a high-profile policing team, known for its yellow jackets and bicycles, launched by former Chief Glenn De Caire. It's been credited with helping to reduce crime downtown, but also has been criticized as a heavy-handed approach.

I think there's something wrong with asking someone for a quarter and you give me a ticket for $65.- Dwight Perry

And some of the testimony heard so far reveals that many of the targets of the "cleaning up" owe tens of thousands of dollars in fines for panhandling, trespassing and open liquor tickets that they never intend to pay.

Dunham's testimony suggests the effort can feel futile.

Dunham said he'd often issue a ticket for someone who was drinking in public "not so much for the punishment of it but for the visual" of the other people watching downtown.

"There's nothing that's going to happen to [the person drinking], and they know that," he said.

A sergeant from the Hamilton police ACTION team, known by its yellow jackets, testified Tuesday that the team deals with 'the same 25 people' every day. (Benjamin Dyment/CBC)

Court heard Monday the officers on the ACTION team were trying to reach a goal of 100 to 120 tickets per officer per year. But Tuesday, Dunham said there was no trouble meeting those targets for ACTION officers working downtown.

'Now I've got to pan twice as hard to pay for the ticket'

The trial also is yielding an rare look at the human side of the policing strategy. 

Another of the "frequent fliers" known to Hamilton police downtown testified in court Tuesday, claiming he owes $20,000 in fines for panhandling and trespassing tickets.

"I think there's something wrong with asking someone for a quarter and you give me a ticket for $65," Dwight Perry said. "It just don't balance out."

Perry's testimony added to a picture where Hamilton's downtown-focused ACTION and mounted officers issue dozens of tickets to the same people, often in the same places and for similar offences, year after year. 

Perry's humour and cheerfulness had lawyers and others in the courtroom chuckling Tuesday morning. Perry, 59, said he has a problem with the way the law is structured, which he said has added up to about 285 tickets, some of which are all over his house.

He said the tickets just make his bad financial situation worse. His spot, he said, is typically between John and Bay streets and between St. Joseph's hospital and Wilson streets.

"Now I've got to pan twice as hard to pay for the ticket," he said.

'It was all just ludicrous'

Dunham was arrested but not actually charged as part of the initial probe into falsified tickets when De Caire announced that five were being charged.

His arrest stemmed from a ticket that was timestamped from Rebecca Street one minute before he was logged in in the station — but he said Tuesday "the only explanation I have is that I wrote the wrong time on that ticket." He was not charged and was allowed to go.

Const. Bhupesh Gulati, Const. Daniel Williams and Const. Stephen Travale leave the John Sopinka Courthouse on Monday afternoon. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Dunham said in September 2014, when the undelivered tickets were found in the shredder, there were rumours flying around Central Station. 

People were accusing the team of simply watching the police's downtown security cameras and writing tickets up from the station, or "going to breakfast and deciding who we were going to give a ticket to," he said. 

"It was all just ludicrous."

The trial continues Thursday. | @kellyrbennett


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