TORONTO - When they first opened the e-mail at police headquarters, they were bracing themselves for a public complaint about one of their officers.
But this e-mail wasn’t a complaint — it was a much-deserved pat on the back.
“I saw an officer see a homeless man outside the Tim Hortons and he quickly pulled over to talk to the man,” the resident wrote. “The officer brought the man inside and bought him some food. Officers who go out of their way to ensure all citizens are okay renew my faith in the police.”
If it had been something negative, they would have tried to find the officer, so it made sense to track down this one who was so compassionate.
After digging, they learned it was 51 Division Const. Ed Parks, 47, who has an incredible life story. He was a social worker for 20 years before he joined the Toronto Police at 38. He put in years at Covenant House, where he described being mentored by veteran coppers like Insp. Sonia Thomas and retired detective sergeant Dickie Neeson.
“From them I learned about community policing and now I can say wearing this uniform is the greatest job in the world because I get to engage people and help them,” he said.
Originally from Michigan, where he earned a degree in psychology, Parks at 15 experienced the horror of losing his 22-year-old brother who was stabbed to death. He knows pain and wants to help people avoid it.
The husband of Barb and proud father of “great kids” Ileyah, 14, Jadyn, 10, and Ethan, 8, says every day is a gift.
Sometimes he hands them out, too.
This story goes back to a cold day in February when the 51 Division officer noticed something unusual at the corner of Richmond and Sherbourne.
“I saw a man walking across the traffic and through the red light,” Parks said. “I was kind of worried about him.”
Parks pulled over his squad car and took a closer look. He noticed it was a homeless man known as Cleo, who often panhandles in the neighbourhood.
“He’s a passive person and I could tell something was wrong,” he said. “I asked him if he was OK, but he was just mumbling and could barely answer. I thought for sure this was going to be a medical call.”
Cleo managed to tell him he has diabetes.
“I was able to determine his sugar levels were off and he told me he had not eaten anything,” Parks said.
The veteran copper quickly brought him inside the Tim Hortons, where he ordered a coffee and a peanut butter cookie.
Then, at Cleo’s request, a pulled pork sandwich.
It was a tasty choice and, more importantly, Cleo was feeling better within minutes. The solid meal was what he needed. All in a day’s work for Parks, who paid for another man’s lunch late Thursday as well, as photographer Dave Thomas and I witnessed.
The last time, somebody wrote in about it.
“We really appreciate it when the public takes the time to send us feedback,” Chief Mark Saunders said. “It is letters like this that remind us we have the public’s support and it inspires our members to continue doing what they do every single day.”
Said 51 Division’s Insp. David Rydzik: “I try and make it a point each and every day to say thank you to my officers for the great work they do. I know they appreciate the positive feedback coming from me, but when that positive feedback, or thank you, comes unsolicited from a member of the public it just means so much more to them.”
Parks said the important thing is Cleo is OK.
“All of my fellow officers do things like that,” Parks said. “It’s just what we do. We get to know people and we want to help them.”
This time, the public has heard about it.