The Metropolitan Toronto Police Department’s 51 Division is one of the busiest and most diverse police jurisdictions in Canada. Its boundaries embrace everything from the affluent homes of Rosedale and corporate offices of midtown to public housing projects and shelters for the destitute— as well as side streets frequented by male and female prostitutes. The district also contains several so-called crack houses, where criminals sell the cocaine derivative that is now among the most popular illegal drugs in the city—and a prime factor in the 15,000 criminal offences committed in the area last year. Maclean’s Senior Writer Ric Dolphin recently spent a Saturday-night shift with officers of 51 Division. His report:
9:55 p.m. Staff Sgt. Selwyn (Sam) Fernandes, the tall, powerfully built 40-year-old who commands 51 Division’s 42 officers, watches on closed-circuit television as two of his men bring a prisoner into the police station. Fernandes, who was born in the African nation of Tanganyika (now Tanzania), explains that the suspect, who is of Vietnamese extraction, is being questioned about the stabbing of his
brother. Sgt. Alistair Stark reports that the victim, who was taken to hospital after his abdomen was cut open with a butcher knife, “was not looking too good. Apparently his guts are hanging out all over the place.” Fernandes glances again at the television monitors, which scan the station’s 24 holding cells. So far, the cells contain only four men. “By four o’clock in the morning they will all be filled,” he predicts.
10:55 p.m. Officers on the graveyard shift are arriving to relieve those finishing evening duty. The incoming officers collect their revolvers from the station’s gun lockers and joke about it being a Saturday night with a full moon. Superstition—and experience—suggest that the combination will mean a busy night for the 22 midnightshift officers. Fernandes is relieved by acting staff sergeant Gregory McLane, 33, a lanky six-foot, three-inch man with a blond moustache and a sharp, intense gaze.
11:20 p.m. Car number 5108, a white Plymouth Caravelle equipped with spotlights, a communications computer and Michelin pursuit radial tires, pulls into Belshaw Place, which cuts an arc through the dingy towers of g the Regent’s Park 13-storey í low-income housing develop| ment. The driver is Const, s Bruce Kane, 31, a dark5 haired, 10-year veteran of I the force. Kane, who earns “ $41,000 a year, recently was
married for the second time, and shares custody of four-year-old son, Adam, with his first wife. At six-foot-two, 225 lb., he is a vivid contrast to the petite form of his partner, 36year-old Joan Pagnotta, who weighs 110 lb. and is just under five feet, four inches tall.
On the force for only 18 months, Pagnotta spent some of that time impersonating prostitutes to set up morality squad arrests and working undercover for the drug enforcement unit. The mother of a 13-year-old daughter, Maria, Pagnotta joined the police after her marriage failed. “The force was looking for minorities,” she says, “and I had two pluses: I was a woman and black.” Jokes Kane, who does most of the talking of the two: “Joanie’s destined to be my boss in a few years.”
11:45 p.m. Behind the wire screen in the backseat of the Plymouth sits the 32-year-old, Jamaican-born owner of a janitorial service. There are two cuts in his clothing, made when a group of 10 men, one of them wielding a machete, jumped him as he was getting out of his van to pick up an employee on Belshaw Place earlier in the evening. He says that he was robbed of a diamond ring and $400 in cash. One of the attackers, he adds, had a web of bum scars on his face.
Now Kane and Pagnotta are returning to the scene of the crime on the off chance that some of the suspects might still be around. They are not. Kane stops and talks to a foot patrol officer who is familiar with most of what the police call the “bandits” in the area. The scarred face, says the patrolling officer, sounds like it could belong to a man known as “Spiderman,” a 28year-old Jamaican immigrant who lives in a crack house in another low-rent apartment project in Belshaw Place. Meanwhile, the car’s radio crackles with reports from dispatchers at the central police communications room on Jarvis Street. There are reports of prowlers, incidents involving drunks, and car thefts. Kane mentions that his ex-wife, who is now dating another policeman, works in the radio room as a civilian communications officer. “My ex usually works on the opposite shift to me,” he says, “so it works out well for the little guy. I take him when she’s at work and vice versa. We’ve been separated since he was 11 months old, so he doesn’t know the difference. He thinks he’s got two homes. ” 12:05 a.m. Back in the 51 Division station, Kane hands the robbery victim 12 black-and-white photos of men with burn scars. Technicians at the police identification bureau have superimposed scars on 11 of the photos so that the 12th mug shot, Spiderman’s, is not unduly prominent. The robbery victim, who appears on the verge of tears throughout the investi-
gation, immediately points to Spiderman. “That man?” Kane asks. “You’re 100-per-cent sure?” The robbery victim replies, “Yes.” Pagnotta, sitting on a telephone book so that she can reach her typewriter, taps out a report on the robbery, then transmits a description of the armed robbery suspect into the computerized information system. Upstairs, in the office of the division detectives—a smoky area inhabited by men wearing shirts and ties, some with revolvers in concealable holsters—the investigation into the knifing of the Vietnamese man has become a second-degree murder investigation, the division’s fifth this year to date. The victim, after having more than five pints of blood pumped into him, has just died on a hospital operating table.
2 a.m. “This is a highpaying corner,” says Pagnotta as the cruiser passes a cluster of prostitutes on a downtown intersection. Pagnotta adds that most of the prostitutes work for pimps who double as their crack suppliers. Addiction to crack, which costs $20 to $40 for a “hit”—or “rock”—spurred a rise in crimes by people who need to support their habit.
From her experience with the morality and drug squads,
Pagnotta is familiar with both prostitution and crack. She says that she has infiltrated crack houses to make purchases. At other times, she says, undercover officers have only to drive through certain downtown districts, and the dealers come out to
meet them, offering drugs for sale. “Crack houses,” she explains, “are just average apartments, very badly kept, with about six or seven people sitting around, most of them high, smoking out of a pipe. And the addicts will do anything to get money for crack. They’ll rob little old ladies.”
2:30 a.m. The computer beeps, and a message from another police car comes up on the computer screen advising that men matching the description of the ones who allegedly robbed the janitorial services owner have been spotted in a low-rent apartment building. Kane and Pagnotta drive there and enter the grimy main corridor of the low-rise building. The smell of marijuana hangs in the stairwell. Kane
draws his gun and, followed by Pagnotta, goes down the stairs from the main floor to the basement. They find no one there. Kane guesses that whoever was down there ran through the basement and escaped through the opposite stairway.
2:45 a.m. Back in the cruiser, Kane recalls an incident from the night before. The girlfriend of a local cocaine addict who has served time in prison for attempted murder arrived at the 51 Division station to report that her boyfriend had punched her. She said that he was in their apartment, armed with a shotgun and a handgun, and was threatening to shoot anybody who came looking for him.
Kane and Const. Kevin McDonald contacted the Emergency Task Force, the Toronto force’s heavily armed special response unit, and then signed out shotguns. Later, ETF officers attempted to break down the suspect’s door, while Kane stood on the ground outside the balcony of the second-floor apartment. The suspect
crawled down to the ground from the balcony. Said Kane: “So I just put the shotgun on him and told him to freeze and put his hands on top of his head and lock his fingers and to get down on his knees. He sat there until a backup team came and put handcuffs on him.”
4:05 a.m. As the night shift drags on, Kane admits that the squalor of his beat is depressing. He talks about finding putrefying corpses in flophouses, about 15-year-old prostitutes victimized by pimps, about drug addicts, drunks, purse-snatchers and parks littered with unconscious winos. “I don’t think I’d want my son to be a copper,” he says. “I think there’s better things in this world that you can do. I’ve been on the job a while now and I know what it’s like. I’ve got one split-up marriage from it. In this division alone, probably two-thirds of the guys are separated or divorced or remarried.”
5:15 a.m. Back at the station, Kane and Sgt. McLane are drinking coffee. It has been a moderately busy shift for 51 Division, with one murder, several robberies and one officer injured (a prisoner broke his thumb while being taken to a cell). McLane prefers busy shifts to quiet ones. “I love this job,” says McLane. “If I had to do it all over again, I would.” Kane interrupts him ÿ to ask for some time off the g following evening. “That,” 1 says McLane, “might be kind Í of difficult.” With Canada’s I busiest jurisdiction growing I busier by the day, time off for “ men like Kane will become harder to get. □
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