Toronto police looks for a way forward

By Sean Delaney

Some residents of Emery have been skeptical that the Toronto Police Service was capable of making a major cultural shift when it comes to engaging the public.

“We’re going to assure you we are going to change our culture . . . we will be where the community wants us to be,” said Police Chief Mark Saunders. “Give us an opportunity to show you we can do this better.”

This spring, the task force, made up of police employees and citizens, released an interim report, The Way Forward. It had 24 recommendations to modernize policing in Toronto — and contain the spiraling $1.05-billion budget. The report has some contentious ideas, such as amalgamating some of Toronto’s 17 police divisions and imposing a three-year freeze on hiring and promotions for officers and civilians, reducing the current complement of 5,200 uniformed officers to 4,750. It’s estimated the measures will reduce the budget by $100 million. So it wasn’t unexpected that closing some divisions would be the “number one concern” of people who attended the community meetings. Torontonians will ultimately embrace the plan if it means getting officers equipped with new handheld technology into neighbourhoods and out of their cruisers.

Police cars are “like big steel bubbles that allow us to get to places fast, but it’s a steel barrier between us and the community,” said Vander Heyden, a former homicide detective.

A participant at the meeting at the McGregor Community Centre expressed support for more officer face-time and less windshield time, via a yellow sticky note placed on one of the comment boards spread throughout the room.

“Officers in this division sit in their parked cruisers and stare @ youth. They should get out of their cars and engage the youth,” read the unsigned note. The suggestion is a throwback to the time when cops walked the beat — before mobile technology was introduced inside police cruisers.

“That, along with expansion of the city, so we had to get further faster, took us out of neighbourhoods. Now we’re going to use technology to figure out how to keep officers in neighbourhoods,” Toronto Police Services Board chair Andy Pringle said at the Driftwood Community Centre. Pringle co-chaired the task force with Chief Mark Saunders, and said the aim is for residents to know police officers and officers to know the residents.

“We need the officer to be much more a part of the community as opposed to being a police presence,” Pringle said.

To rebuild trust in communities where there is little, Pringle told the gathering, “we’re going to have to work with the communities, and work differently than we have in the past.”

It was suggested that building that trust again can happen only if there is wide-ranging officer retraining. “If you’re not going to retrain them properly for modern society and not 30 years ago, you’re still going to have the same problems — because a lot of officers still have their way of thinking.”

Task force members are optimistic the recommendations contained in a final report, expected to be made public in January — will be acted upon.

Recently our friends at 31 Division organized another Cricket game with the students of Emery Colligate. After winning the coin toss, the Police team opted to bat first and were able to put up a total of 245 runs. Officer Sunny scored a marvelous 100 runs and was not out alone with Officer Rehan from Peel Police Service, scoring 50 runs. Emery Colligate was up to bat next but could not hold their wickets to the smashing bowling of the Police team. All in all it was a great day for community relations. The Man of the Match went to - Officer Sunny. The Best Bowler - Maliha from Emery and Best batsman - Manzoor from Emery. Did you know that 31 Division runs many youth programs out of the local schools? Indeed, way too many to mention. Sports is a great way to mentor future recruits but most importantly it helps create solid relationships with the local youth of Emery.