The Cobourg Police Chief said the revolving door of justice is a “huge” problem in the community.
Cobourg Police Chief Paul VandeGraaf had an in-depth conversation with Today’s Northumberland about the frustrations in policing dealing with repeat offenders who are sometimes released from the courts before the paperwork has been completed.
VandeGraaf hears regularly from citizens of Cobourg about the names of people charged with offences and how the courts keep releasing them, only to have them charged again.
“I only represent the men and women of this police service who are out on the road, every day of the week, night and day doing really great police work while you and I are in bed, men and women are arresting people who are causing havoc in our community.”
Recently the Chief of Toronto Police was very vocal in the media about bail compliance for violent crimes.
“We are very lucky in Cobourg we don’t have that problem. However it doesn’t diminish the impact it has on our community.”
VandeGraaf has heard that people aren’t reporting certain crimes including thefts from cars anymore because they may feel there is no point.
“Well the point is, we need to know.”
“We arrest people, we do great criminal investigations and we put them before the courts.”
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for suspects to be released in less than 24-hours.
“These are people who are well known to us. We know who these individuals are in our community. I know a lot of people say, “it’s just theft from cars, it’s just a few parking meters destroyed.
But VandeGraaf states the damage to the parking meters were over $10,000 which falls back on the taxpayer.
“When people have their stuff rifled through their cars. That’s an invasion of privacy. So from the fact of our officers point of view – why they haven’t thrown their hands up – is just a credit to them.”
Within the past two weeks Cobourg Police arrested a person who was on warrants in the community.
The person had a weapon and (illegal) drugs on them when they were arrested.
VandeGraaf said what was so utterly shocking when the person appeared before court, they were released on their own recognizance with actually less conditions that what they started with.
The Chief of Police states something is clearly wrong with the system.
Under the previous Provincial Government there were changes made and now it’s a ladder approach on how individuals are released from custody.
Initially a person has very little conditions depending on the seriousness of the crime. But if they are constantly being charged with other offenses it is supposed to be harder to be released as you’re essentially climbing up the rungs of the ladder.
“There are a lot of people in our community who are alleged to commit a variety of criminal offences and they should be given the least, like a promise to appear by our officers. They have jobs to go to, families to protect and I’m all behind that.”
“These aren’t the people I’m talking about.”
“And if you go up the ladder, it should get stiffer and stiffer.”
“It shouldn’t go up and down. When we have people in our community who are released and on the documents it says they have no fixed address – that means they are wandering the community.”
Police have asked for curfews of suspects as part of conditions. When or if that happens police can randomly check on the individuals at the location they are supposed to be at as stated on the court documents. In essence it’s called, “a door knock provision.”
“Without that it’s almost powerless unless we find them in the community after the curfew. And if the Justice of the Peace, or the Crown won’t put that in – it really, really harms our ability to make a dent in this petty crime – but one that has tremendous impact to our community.”
VandeGraaf states he’s even heard the officers saying, “we only had three cars broken into.”
“Well that’s horrible. The fact that we’ve become apathetic to that.”
“I’ve told our officers if people are breaching their probation or breaching their restricted conditions they have to be held accountable for that.”
VandeGraaf understands that some people who are in trouble with the law are “suffering horrific addictions and my heart goes out to them.”
“If they wanted help, we would take them wherever they needed to be. There is lots of resources in the community. Not everyone is ready for that and that’s their own journey with addictions.”
In some cases what started out as a relatively minor offence gets very complex for everyone because there are a litany of charges – breach of undertaking, breach of recognizance.
“There are multiple breaches and for the officers that’s a lot of work. The men and women who are protecting us, all night long, every weekend, every day, they make a great arrest of somebody breaching, maybe committing another offence, taking a restricted weapon off the street. There is a lot of paperwork that goes with that and for them to appear for a WASH court on the weekend.
It’s the wear and tear on the officers. They work 12-hours and work to get a bail brief ready for the video remand system. The suspects are then released and the officers are even asking, “what’s the point?”
Just last week a person was charged with nine counts of fail to comply with probation and five counts of breach of conditional sentence order when she was picked up walking downtown.
While yet another was when officers from Cobourg went to Durham Police to arrest someone from the Cobourg area who Durham Police had arrested. Cobourg Police returned them to Cobourg court for “significant offences” and they were released.
“Police can release on a Promise to Appear, but when they go to court, our “ladder approach” what the Crown Attorney has asked for is, maybe it starts with a summons, then a Promise to Appear, the next ladder is a bail court.”
“We shouldn’t come back down the ladder. You always work up the ladder. But it just seems when we hit that rung on the ladder, it just dies there.”
VandeGraaf has taken the issue so seriously that he’s pulled a criminal investigator away from the Criminal Investigations Breach of the Service.
“I’m going to assign them to bail court. So whenever there is a repeat bail for the same suspect, it will ensure the conditions that already exist don’t go down the ladder.”
“I’m not saying everyone needs to stay in custody, I’m here to say, my men and women and this community deserves better.”
In years past, if the person didn’t have a permanent address or had a bad criminal history that had numerous fail to comply charges they wouldn’t be released.
“If you didn’t have a home, you’d have to have somebody that would say you could stay with them. That’s gone by the wayside and I don’t understand why.”
“We’re a fairly small community and repeat thefts and thefts are tiresome. They wear on my officers and I can only imagine the weight on the community. It’s a huge problem.”
VandeGraaf said courts must start going back to the ladder approach for the sake of his officers and the confidence of the community.
“We can really have a positive impact and it starts with honouring the ladder approach. Once you get there it doesn’t go back. More conditions or stay in custody.”
VandeGraaf states simply, “the system is broken.”
“We know who these people are, we know what they are doing. Give us the conditions, give us the reasons, give us the time, give us the energy. As the Chief of Police I have a stake in this community. But more importantly I have a duty to my membership. My people are tired and frustrated.”
“When you see the same person every week for six weeks (in bail court) someone needs to put their foot down and say, “no more.”