'It's out of our control': St. Thomas police explain limitations surrounding 'circular justice'

St. Thomas police continue to stress they can't arrest their way out of the cycle of poverty, addiction, homelessness and mental health.

Monday they went to social media to educate residents how the current 'catch and release' approach to justice is affecting them on a daily basis.

'After arrest and charge, and the evidence is is given before the courts, the courts ultimately make the decision of what's going to happen," says Tanya Calvert, corporate communications coordinator at the St. Thomas Police Service (STPS).

It's unique for a police service to use Facebook for this type of public awareness campaign.

"There's been some confusion, where they're seeing people being arrested in the morning and then arrested again in the afternoon," says Calvert. They're wondering why the police are letting these people go? We're just a part of a larger picture in the justice system. We're frontline, we meet the situations up front, and then what happens after that is out of our control".

Laura Huey, Western Sociology Professor on May 4, 2021. (Zoom)

Western University sociology professor Laura Huey understands why STPS has taken this approach.

"What we often fail to talk about is decision making with respect to the courts," says Huey.

"Decision making with respect to prosecution parole decisions, there's very little accountability mechanisms in terms of public oversight into those processes. One of the ways to sort of do that is to highlight the problem and at least the public now can be aware of it. Therefore if we want to have public policy changes we can make better informed decisions without that transparency, and there's no accountability"

Huey then went onto explain why so many charges are being withdrawn by the Crown.

"We had something called Bill C-75 And what it did was implemented a whole variety of different reforms to various criminal code acts in particular it changed bail," says Huey.

"What it did was it put the onus on the system to make bail much more accessible for various types of offenders, with one exception: domestic violence offenders. The idea behind the messaging behind this reform was, we want to get people out of being held in jails for long periods of time without coming to trial. In theory it sounds great, however, a lot of the people that were being held, also happened to be repeat offenders".

As the weather warms up, St. Thomas police has increased its presence in the core by adding additional officers to the downtown beat. More eyes on the street is welcome news for downtown business owners who continue to deal with vulnerable individuals.

St. Thomas, Ont. police on May 4, 2021. (Brent Lale/CTV London)

'Around the corner they sleep on the street, spit on our windows and empty our garbage's out back," says Patti Mugford of Mugford Shoes in downtown St. Thomas, Ont.

"They're obnoxious and loud and they scare our customers. We had a customer today for curbside pickup that didn't want to get out of the car".

Calvert says they have not only added an additional full-time officer to the beat, they have also taken special constable's from the courthouse who were not required because of COVID-19.

"It's going to allow us to have an increased presence in the downtown core," says Calvert, who says the new officers will compliment their mental health team, and bicycle police.

"There's a lot of uniform presence, and we can take some of those small problems and address them before they become big problems".

Many of those problems are created by poverty, mental health, addiction and homelessness.

Huey described a recent offence in London, Ont. where the offender had multiple previous charges. Those people are not worried about committing a breach or failing to comply with conditions.

"I saw a police release which told the story of an individual who led them on a merry chase that led to property damage and assault on a police officer" says Huey.

"I very quickly ran that person's name on Google, and this is somebody with a history of criminal offenses including the last he got busted for for drugs and weapons offenses, he was actually out on recognizance".

"I think what we need to start doing is doing a better job at figuring out who are the least likely to reoffend as soon as they're out on the street and make a distinction between property and violent offenses," says Huey.

"I think everyone agrees, we don't want violent offenders out the offending on the streets".

STPS hope that if the justice system is not the proper place for these vulnerable individuals, they can receive the necessary supports upon release.

"Our hope would be is is that somehow we can make a plan that people are being diverted after the first arrest," says Calvert.

"Upon release, it would be a great situation if we could have some kind of support system in place where that person is then diverted for whatever social disorder, they may be suffering from. Mental health, homelessness, poverty, addiction, whatever the case may be, but reroute that person through a better support system than being back out on the street to be rearrested the same day".