(Photos: Kelly Roche/QEW South Post)
BY KELLY ROCHE
It’s been a year since Divon Romeo had an encounter with Peel police, and he’s been looking for answers since.
“I was scared, to be honest, ’cause I didn’t know what I did,” said Romeo, 16.
“I was confused and when they said I was a suspect to a robbery, I was like, ‘I never did anything like that in my life.'”
Romeo plays football and runs track. He lives near the Bramalea City Centre and said the interaction took place on Knightsbridge Rd., an area known for gangs and violence.
“It scared me because I thought that my name was going to be in the system and stuff,” Romeo said.
He said he phoned his brother, an RCMP officer, who found out Romeo, with his hood up, was legitimately questioned for an active investigation.
Romeo was one of about 40 – mostly black – residents who attended a meeting hosted by Peel police Tuesday evening at the Malton Community Centre to address street checks, also known as carding. The practice involves police stopping people and collecting and storing personal information. Cops defend the practice as an effective crime-fighting tool.
Last month, Police Chief Jennifer Evans turned down a request by the police services board to suspend street checks after Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie and Brampton Mayor Linda Jeffrey expressed concern about visible minorities being targeted by cops.
The province is currently looking into regulating street checks; Crombie and Jeffrey were in attendance Tuesday, along with board members Laurie Williamson and Amrik Singh Ahluwalia.
The session opened with residents sharing their views.
“I don’t like street checks for what it seems to stand for,” said Trevor Cox, who lives in Malton.
“Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don’t … I want to know, is it working? Is it doing justice?”
His daughter, Angeleta Grant, also lives in Mississauga and said she can rattle off a list of people she knows who have been stopped and questioned by police, “and not one of them are criminals.”
A senior officer sat at each table with attendees, discussing four topics: When, where and how people are selected for a street check; the information collected and recorded; the interaction; how street checks are monitored and overseen.
“We don’t hear enough of the good news. We don’t know, really, what happens with that information once it gets collected,” said Grant, noting there’s still a gap to bridge.
Building confidence within the community is key, said Evans.
“If the people are afraid to call the police because they don’t trust them, then that’s a big concern,” said Evans, adding “really, I think it’s about customer service.”
Often times street checks are a “follow up on a call or they’re getting a complaint from a neighbourhood,” she said.
For instance, if residents report teenagers in the park at 3 a.m. and broken beer bottles or break-ins at a school, officers will be dispatched.
“And if they find people, they may record the information, and then later on, we might be able to link the people we’ve located in the park to the crimes that have occurred,” said Evans.
The interaction with cops is voluntary.
“If they choose not to give information to the officer, then they have the ability to walk away. And if the officer feels they’ve done something criminal, then at that point the interaction will then change,” Evans said.
In 2014 there were 226,000 calls for service and “we didn’t have one complaint on street checks,” said Evans.
Tony Deans of Brampton has a gripe, though. At 48, he’s “still getting stopped.”
Deans pointed out police are well paid and armed, often dealing with people struggling to make ends meet.
“It really wouldn’t hurt you to humble yourselves a bit,” Deans said to officers.
Evans told reporters she wants the community to know their chief is hearing their concerns, then said to the crowd “I don’t think this is a quick fix.”
Another community consultation takes place Oct. 20 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Chris Gibson Recreation Centre (125 McLaughlin Rd. N.)
Findings will likely be presented at the Nov. 20 board meeting.