Kaz Novak,Hamilton Spectator file photo
Mission Services executive director Paddy Bowen says too often the homeless and marginalized are ticketed for everything from loitering to drinking in public.

News that five Hamilton police officers are facing criminal charges for allegedly writing false tickets threatens an already strained relationship between the police service and the city’s most vulnerable people, experts say.

The five officers were all members of ACTION Team One and are accused of writing 32 fake provincial offence notice tickets targeting 18 people — largely believed to be marginalized people known in the downtown core.

Constables Bhupesh Gulati, Shawn Smith, Steve Travele, Staci Tyldesley and Dan Williams face a number of charges including conspiracy to fabricate provincial offence notices, fabricating evidence and breach of trust. They remain suspended with pay.

“The further victimization of vulnerable people is always a concern to us,” said Alan Whittle, director of community relations for Good Shepherd.

“It’s inappropriate to pick on those in our community who are the most vulnerable.”

During a news conference announcing the charges Tuesday night, police Chief Glenn De Caire said a team of experienced investigators spent months going through all the evidence and he’s confident in their work.

Hamilton police have withdrawn all 32 tickets. But what likely will never be known is whether other cases of falsified tickets went undiscovered.

De Caire said a review of procedures around provincial offence notices showed there was nothing procedural that would have caught the problem earlier.

The investigation only transpired because another officer found evidence of the alleged falsified tickets in a box destined for the shredder.

Maris Scotto Di Luzio, a lawyer at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, said unpaid provincial offence notices are often reported to the credit bureau, which can affect someone’s credit.

This means that anyone with unpaid tickets could have issues when a credit check is done, something that is routine for many landlords, she said.

Mission Services executive director Paddy Bowen said the relationship between the police and homeless and marginalized people was already strained before the arrests, largely because of ticketing.

Too often these people are ticketed for everything from loitering to drinking in public, she said. But these tickets are never paid and don’t actually address the issues of why people are homeless.

She called the tactic of giving people tickets that everyone knows they will never pay, “the elephant standing on James Street.”

Bowen said she didn’t think this case is a black and white example of bad police.

“There’s no villain here,” she said, adding that she believes officers are pressured to give tickets as a means for the service to show it’s cleaning up the downtown.

“It’s not the right thing to do, but it’s the politically right thing to do,” she said. “I feel bad for the officers.”

This pressure to issue tickets is a common complaint among some officers.

When asked about whether the police service bears some responsibility given the pressure to issue tickets, De Caire said the police service sets high expectations for performance, including enforcement, and will continue to do so.

Hamilton Police Association president Clint Twolan said issuing provincial offence notices are a measure of performance for the police service and its officers.

Policing is a statistically-driven industry, he said, adding that tickets are one of the performance indicators police are measured by.

“If you want to meet those high expectations there is a ton of pressure to issue tickets,” he said.

Twolan also noted that he’s spoken with some of the officers facing charges, and they deny the allegations.

They are scheduled to appear in court July 13.

Source: The Hamilton Spectator