Canada SPECIAL REPORT

ON THE MEAN STREETS

As the police cut back, private cops are moving in

PAUL PALANGO January 12 1998
Canada SPECIAL REPORT

ON THE MEAN STREETS

As the police cut back, private cops are moving in

PAUL PALANGO January 12 1998

ON THE MEAN STREETS

As the police cut back, private cops are moving in

PAUL PALANGO

JENNIFER HUNTER

TANYA DAVIES

Canada SPECIAL REPORT

It was midnight, and the three men huddled in the shadows of a laneway in downtown Toronto were up to no good. They were closing a deal for crack cocaine when the black-and-yellow cruiser turned the corner and caught them in its headlights. Two hooded figures took off east through the slush and snow, while a third man stumbled west—into the arms of the driver of the cruiser who radioed for help. Within seconds, Fred Gracewood and another officer arrived at the scene, in the heart of the densely populated St. James Town apartment complex. They forced the suspect, a 28-year-old Filipino-Canadian, over the trunk of the patrol car and searched him. “I am charging you with trespassing,” Gracewood said, handcuffing the suspect. He took him to a small storefront office in the complex. There, Gracewood did what he has done 3,000 times over the past five years: he took a mug shot, then he called the police—the real police.

Fred Gracewood is a security guard, a private policeman employed by Intelligarde International Inc. of Toronto. He is part of a new breed of security officer on the mean streets of Canada. In all, there are some 2,000 private security agencies transporting cash, guarding homes—and, increasingly, entering the lives of Canadians in surprising and unexpected ways. In Gracewood’s case, his company has a contract from a Toronto public housing agency to protect its section of the massive St. James Town highrise project, home to about 30,000 people. But the reach of the firms is growing. As governments cut back on police budgets, and the police respond by providing fewer services, private security companies are enjoying a level of public acceptance not seen since before the First World War when private firms provided much of the policing and intelligence agents for business and governments.

Today in many hospitals, private police officers, although earning little more than the minimum wage, control the premises. They protect the airport and seaport in Vancouver, and patrol school buildings and grounds, public housing projects and upper-income neighborhoods from coast to coast. The Ontario government is planning to authorize security guards to transport prisoners between jail cells and courtrooms in 1998. In British Columbia, a private security firm even runs a jail for the Victoria police (page 15).

In major urban areas across the country, vehicles owned by companies such as Primcorp Security in Vancouver and Montreal’s Garda Security Group have become as visible as police cars. In some provinces, it is difficult to tell the difference between the two—and that is no accident. At a time when police resources are being cut back everywhere, politicians are happy to give the public the impression that there are more police on the road than there actually are.

In this mix of public and private police, Intelligarde International stands out. While other security companies see themselves as an adjunct to the conventional police, Intelligarde is pushing private law enforcement in new directions. Although its officers are armed only with flashlights and attack-trained dogs, Intelligarde bills itself as a para-police force—a hard-nosed, Americanstyle organization that will clean up crack houses, patrol dangerous ghettos and handle other risky assignments once undertaken by the local police.

Security guards have only two bases of authority in Canada. The first is the provincial trespass act, which they enforce on behalf of the owners or managers of the properties they are paid to protect. The second is citizen’s arrest, which simply means the guards are legally permitted to stop, detain and arrest suspects for the police, using sufficient force, when they witness them committing an indictable offence. The only security guards who are allowed to carry guns are those, such as employees of Brinks Canada Ltd. and Loomis Armored Car Service Ltd., who protect money and valuables. “The bottom line is security guards are not police officers, nor are they allowed to perform police-officer work,” says Murray Chicra, chairman of the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services. “Security guards exercise the same power you and I have with regard to protecting your own private property.”

The growth of private policing took off in the early 1990s as traditional police forces began to move away from the crimecontrol model of policing towards more community-based, preventive programs. With this shift, the private sector—especially business—was encouraged to pay for more of its own protection. In the 1991 census, there were 61,500 police officers in Canada, and 104,800 security guards. Today, the number of police officers has declined, to 54,311, while the

number of security guards is believed to have doubled to more than 200,000, although definitive statistics are not available.

Too often, the private policemen are poorly educated, barely trained and inadequately equipped. Although the licensing of security guards is similar from one province to the next, training is left to the companies. While new Mounties, for example, receive seven months’ training at the RCMP academy in Regina and another six months of on-the-job instruction, security guards generally are given a few hours of instruction and learn the rest of their duties on the job. Most receive minimum wage, or a little better, although Intelligarde pays its staff between $10.50 and $14.50 an hour.

The night before Gracewood’s St. James Town “bust,” 270 people jammed into the community centre in the village of Batawa, Ont., 145 km east of Toronto. They had gathered to observe the competition for a contract for the policing of a new regional municipality, to be known as Quinte West, that will incorporate Trenton, and two neighboring townships where Batawa is located. The public meeting was unique because it marked the first time in Canada that private security companies had been invited to bid for the right to provide municipal police services.

The contenders for the primary policing contract were the police force of Trenton and the Ontario Provincial Police, which already served the two townships. The competitive bidding was made possible by Ontario’s Bill 105, which received royal assent last June, and is designed to establish a uniform standard of policing across the province. But Section 5 of the act empowers municipal councils to “adopt a different method of providing police services,” and that notion of a “different method” caught the attention of Heather Mackenzie-Gray, an accountant and provincial-government appointee to the Quinte West police services board. “ ‘Oh,’ I thought, ‘look at the cost savings,’ ” says Mackenzie-Gray. At her urging, Intelligarde International entered a bid in Quinte West to provide second-tier, or non-emergency, services.

Economist Roger Mawdsley, who was hired to do a cost-benefit analysis of the bids, found there could be significant savings if some police services were privatized. “It stands to reason that if you can put a person with security training on a patrol job at half the cost of having a fully trained constable, eventually this is going to save the taxpayer money,” says Mawdsley.

At the Batawa meeting, the Trenton force won the council’s approval for the entire policing contract, but it was not a clear-cut victory. The council asked the Trenton police to consider subcontracting some of the non-emergency work to Intelligarde. That included the use of security guards to respond to calls about such things as breaking and entering, theft and public mischief, and to provide a bicycle patrol in the village of Frankford. “Second-tier policing

has been taken as a viable option here.

We will be considering it now,” says Mackenzie-Gray.

Like many public police administrators, Trenton police Chief Bill Armstrong makes no secret of his concern about competition security companies. “In an urban area the size of Toronto, to have a private company handle non-emergency calls might be a real advantage because you still have many police officers to call upon when real serious emergencies take place. But we only have 33 sworn officers and we’re going to be stretched out over an area of 500 square kilometres. We’re concerned about the training of private security officers.”

The reluctance of police authorities to welcome private cops as partners in law enforcement is understandable. The stereotypical security guard—young, white and poorly educated—is often seen as a police wanna-be, if not an actual danger to society. In the 1994 film Pulp Fiction, the hillbilly rapist-murderer Zed was a security guard. Yet in spite of such concerns, the trend towards private policing continues unabated, partly because of the perceived inefficiency and ineffectiveness of conventional police forces.

According to law enforcement experts, the driving force behind the private-police movement is a slim, | ] little-known discussion paper—“Police Challenge 2000: A Vision of the Future of Policing in Canada”— published in 1990 by then-federal Tory Solicitor General Pierre Cadieux. In it, Cadieux talked about the need to reduce costs in the justice system. He urged that the police become more community oriented and that private security firms be allowed to perform more policing and investigative functions. “The role or mission of the police in Canadian society becomes fundamentally one of peace officers rather than merely as law enforcement officers involved with crime control,” Cadieux wrote.

Since then, community-based policing programs have become the rage throughout Canada. In theory, these programs are meant to put more police on the streets. In practice, however, police forces have reduced traditional services. In Toronto, more than 60 per cent of all calls to the police are now handled by “alternate response” units. Complainants are told to come to a police station or to describe their problem over a telephone because in many cases the police will not make house calls. Police sources say that last fall the Toronto police quietly implemented a policy under which their drug squad would no longer work past 9 p.m., even though drug dealers are most active at night. The rationale: to save on overtime and to reduce the number of cases going to already overcrowded courts.

One result of the diminution of services is that the police hesitate to lay charges, and when they do, Crown attorneys are often reluctant to prosecute unless they have virtually ironclad cases or public opinion demands a trial. As the police and prosecutors retrench, the private sector is forced to hire its own law enforcers, to the dismay of many businessmen. “We are being taxed three times,” says Vancouver architect Roger Bayley, who is president of the Gastown Business Improvement Society. ‘We are taxed for regular police services, taxed by the Gastown Business Improvement Society and we’re voluntarily paying a fee for security people.”

The original intention of community-based policing was that neighborhoods would be improved by “micro-policing”—a zero-tolerance attitude towards even minor crimes. That is how the authorities cleaned up the New York City subway and some of that city’s tougher neighborhoods. Even turnstile jumpers and graffiti artists were arrested or given summonses. But in Canada, political and economic forces are making the police reluctant to crack down on minor infractions, experts say. Intelligarde founder Ross Alan McLeod calls communitybased policing “empty-holster policing—it is a fraud, and the people on the streets know that it’s a fraud. That’s why our business is booming.”

Urban philosopher Jane Jacobs also criticizes the police for not enforcing seemingly minor laws. “The police have been encouraged to let the small fry go because they’re more interested in going after the big boys, whether it’s for money or glory or because they’ve read too many detective stories, I don’t know,” she told Maclean’s. “There is a wrongheaded sense that small crime doesn’t matter. The fact is that the big ones depend on all those small ones and the big ones grow out of those small ones, particularly in drugs.”

But throwing hard-nosed, unarmed security guards into drug-infested ghettos to enforce petty laws is a prescription for danger, as revealed on two recent occasions when Maclean’s went on patrol with Intelligarde officers. Paid to protect public housing projects, parking lots and private buildings, their workaday world is the seamy underside of Toronto. With a dog, and often in teams of two or more officers, they patrol the filthy stairwells and garages where drug dealers and prostitutes ply their business. Many suspects are armed with guns or knives. Intelligarde employees, who do not carry firearms, frequently find themselves in scuffles or all-out fights. Across the country, there have been numerous confrontations between citizens and security guards, but Intelligarde appears to be in a league of its own. McLeod and his employees have received death threats and been shot at and stabbed. Once a refrigerator was pushed from a highrise apartment balcony in northwest Toronto on an Intelligarde vehicle; another time, a chesterfield was thrown from a balcony at guards. On one occasion, an active bomb was left on the company’s office doorstep. Today, employees wear guns in the office for fear of a surprise attack. But despite a high turnover among guards, the dedication of those who remain is obvious. One Intelligarde officer recently chased a suspect for seven kilometres on foot before losing him.

As controversial as Intelligarde has become—‘We’re the bad boys of security,” McLeod says, proudly—its officers have close ties to the communities they police, and residents regularly stop them to thank them for protecting them and their property. In 1996, company guards conducted a series of raids on behalf of management to clean drug dealers out of a public housing complex in North Toronto, arresting a number of dealers. Later, guards James Huyton and Jason Reid, were lured into an ambush behind the property, beaten and kicked unconscious. Huyton, 24, received a broken nose and was stabbed in the neck with an X-Acto knife. A week later, he was back on patrol in the same neighborhood. Not a word of the assault was reported in the local media. “I just wanted to show them that they might have won the battle, but they didn’t win the war,” Huyton says. He hopes one day to become a regular policeman, as 20 former Intelligarde employees already have done.

Huyton is no stranger to controversy. On May 24, 1996, he was on duty in a downtown Toronto highrise with another guard. A tenant, Roger Carr, alleged that the two guards attacked him without provocation. The guards claimed Carr was smoking marijuana and attacked them with a coat hanger. Although police refused to lay charges against anyone, Carr, with the help of a citizens’ group, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, filed a private criminal complaint against the guards, which was dismissed in court. John Clarke, provincial organizer for OCAP, says Intelligarde likes “to push the limits. We know that security is a legitimate concern in neighborhoods, but in our minds, Intelligarde is the biggest threat to security.”

The Carr case was the second supported by OCAP against Intelligarde that went to court. The earlier case was also dismissed. And Intelligarde’s McLeod rejects Clarke’s complaints. “They want to put us out of business because we are good at what we do,” he says. ‘We clean up buildings and we get criminals out. All OCAP is doing is trying to protect the rights of criminals.”

As it awaits a decision on its bid to provide second-tier policing in Quinte West, Intelligarde has had feelers from other municipalities. But some public officials are nervous about security companies be coming too much like the real police. “If the Ontario Provincial Police has its way, we’d be dressed up in pink jumpsuits with ‘I AM A SECURITY GUARD’ plastered across the chest,” says McLeod. ‘We’ll fight to the death to make sure that doesn’t happen.” Pink suits or not, private police are becoming a commonplace sight on Canadian streets.