Toronto

Regent Park, St. Jamestown residents allege Toronto police robbed them during raids: study

More than 30 Regent Park and St. Jamestown residents who’ve experienced a Toronto police raid allege that officers robbed them of cash, drugs or jewelry during the raid, according to a recent study.

Perceived misconduct during raids ‘cemented’ study participants’ distrust in police

In a statement, Toronto police told CBC News that the service can't speak to the allegations in the study without specifics on each incident, but says the service follows 'strict procedures and protocols when conducting warrants.' (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

More than 30 Regent Park and St. Jamestown residents who've experienced a Toronto police raid allege officers robbed them of cash, drugs or jewelry during the raid, according to a recent study.

The peer-reviewed study published in November in the Journal of Qualitative Criminal Justice & Criminology found it was perceived police misconduct during raids — not the raids themselves or their legal outcomes — that generally impacted the mainly criminally-involved participants' views of police. 

On top of alleged theft, the 23 men and 12 women interviewed also said they were subjected to warrantless searches, unnecessary violence and needless destruction of their property during the raids.

"Those accounts really caused us to pause," said Marta-Marika Urbanik, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta. 

Urbanik and her co-author Carolyn Greene, an associate professor at Athabasca University, decided to study perceptions of raids specifically after 35 of the 45 people they interviewed for a project on inner-city interactions with police told them they had experienced at least one raid in their life.

Perceptions of misconduct matter even if actions were just

Urbanik and Greene say they can't know for sure whether or not the misconduct alleged throughout their interviews actually happened, but the pair argue that when it comes to perceptions of police legitimacy in Regent Park and St. Jamestown, it doesn't really matter. 

True or not, the stories are shared widely, the researchers say, and influence future interactions with officers in the two neighbourhoods, which are both policed by 51 Division. 

"These events sort of cemented the distrust and a view that police won't treat you fairly [for participants]" said Greene.

"What needs to happen is greater education, greater communication, between the community and the police service." 

All of the participants in the study experienced raids in Regent Park and St. Jamestown. Both neighbourhoods are policed by 51 Division. (Richard Agecoutay/CBC)

In a statement, Toronto police told CBC News that the service can't speak to the allegations in the study without specifics on each incident but that it follows "strict procedures and protocols when conducting warrants." 

"Public trust and strengthening our relationships with the community are of paramount importance to the Service and all its members," said spokesperson Connie Osborne. "We will continue to learn from the communities we serve and strive to build better relationships."

The statement also noted that body-worn cameras for officers have started to roll out across the service in order to "provide full and accurate accounts of police interactions with members of the public."

'I've never been straight up robbed like that'

Most of the raids detailed in the study were related to drug trafficking investigations and happened while low-income interviewees were living in social housing.

Almost all of those interviewed accused police of stealing things from their home during the raid, according to the study.

"They found money in a vent and they took it and never reported it," said a 22-year-old man identified as Tyke in the study. "I've never been straight up robbed like that, like bold faced!"

The amount of cash allegedly taken and not officially documented by officers in the study ranged from a few thousand dollars up to $190,000 in one case where the interviewee was involved in large scale drug-trafficking.

"You're there looking for drugs, you're looking for weapons and you search one room in an entire house?!" said a 31-year-old man identified as Ricky. "So clearly you knew the money was in the safe, you went there, and you got the money out the safe."

Police say all objects seized by officers are reported

Osborne told CBC News police lawfully execute warrants in all cases.

"Anything found and seized is reported back to a justice of the peace," she said. "The court then makes the decision to return the seized items to the owner or if police should continue to retain it as evidence."

Like with allegations of warrantless searches, Greene and Urbanik think at least some of these experiences could amount to misunderstandings around what officers can and cannot do during a raid and how that information is communicated to residents. 

"Communicating is extremely important," said Greene.

"Showing where they have a warrant, showing that warrant immediately upon entry, for example, is one way that they could improve understandings and perceptions of that process."

Residents didn't paint police with 'broadly negative brush'

Despite recounting extensive allegations of police misconduct, Urbanik says the fact that most of the residents interviewed also talked about positive experiences with specific officers speaks to the credibility of their stories. 

"Most of our participants did not paint police with this broadly negative brush," she said. "When they believe they are treated fairly and with respect even criminally-involved persons like our participants are willing to share that — and they remember that."

However, Urbanik says negative experiences still outweigh positive ones in terms of the participants' experiences with police.

The distrust that comes from those negative experiences is part of the reason none of the participants in the study reported alleged police misconduct, according to Urbanik.

Participants fear reporting alleged misconduct

"There was a real fear that, 'What is the point of me reporting this police misconduct to police because it's police investigating police,'" Urbanik told CBC News. 

"So there was a real disbelief and distrust that that would go anywhere — and in fact — there were serious concerns that this might actually lead to additional harm."

In a statement, Toronto police said that members of the public can make complaints to the Office of the Independent Review Police Director (OIRPD) or Special Investigations Unit (SIU) if they don't feel comfortable lodging a complaint with police. 

"The Service fully co-operates with these investigations and this includes officers providing their notes," said Osborne.

Going forward, the study argues, researchers need access to general data on raids to account for where, why and how raids are used by police. 

"Who are [raids] deployed against at this point?" said Urbanik. "We cannot even say that they are disproportionately concentrated in marginalized, disadvantaged neighbourhoods, such as Regent Park and St. Jamestown."

"Many scholars might believe that to be the case, but we cannot say that for sure."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nicole Brockbank

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nicole Brockbank is a reporter for CBC Toronto's Enterprise Unit. Fuelled by coffee, she digs up, researches and writes original investigative and feature stories. nicole.brockbank@cbc.ca

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