Compassionate, Dedicated & Brave Work Honoured

By Ron Fanfair

Ron Fanfair

Writer/Photographer

Professional Standards

The 57th annual Police Excellence Awards Gala is being held on May 15, 2024 to celebrate amazing work by Toronto Police Service members.

There are 12 individuals and groups being honoured with Police Officer Excellence Awards, chosen on the criteria of bravery, humanitarianism, superior investigative work and outstanding police skills. 

Of these award winners, the Police Officer(s) of the Year is selected by a panel of judges, including seasoned journalists, community and business members, and members of the Toronto Police Service Board’s Advisory Panels.

The Awards also honour Toronto Police Service members in three other categories: Business Excellence, Civilian Excellence and Police Animal Excellence.

 

Police Officer Excellence Award Winners

 

Police Constables Shawn Brown, Andreea Gasca, Cassandra Ouellet & Michael Williams-Blue

On May 1, 2023, Constables Shawn Brown, Andreea Gasca, Cassandra Ouellet and Michael Williams-Blue of 41 Division were first on the scene of an unknown trouble call at the Warden subway station.

As the officers rushed to the station, they did not know what tragic and chaotic scene awaited them. A teenage boy had been seriously injured after climbing between the train cars and falling, before being pulled back to safety by his travelling companions.

As the first emergency service responders on scene, this group of officers found a frantic scene where a teenage boy lay unconscious and bleeding inside a train car. They immediately tended to the boy, who was not breathing, and was losing blood quickly due to a serious head trauma.

The officers worked quickly and cooperatively to administer First Aid and bring the boy’s pulse back until firefighters arrived to take over. The responding healthcare teams determined that the officers’ quick actions were instrumental in helping to save the boy, allowing him to get him to hospital for treatment.

“These officers’ effective and seamless teamwork and communication brought the youth’s pulse back,” said Superintendent Warren Wilson. “They should be commended and recognized for a job well done in a very challenging situation that could have had a tragic outcome, if not for their effective and collaborative intervention.”

Police Constables Shawn Brown, Andreea Gasca, Cassandra Ouellet and Michael Williams-Blue are honoured for their fast-thinking, coordinated response amidst a challenging situation that helped to save this young man’s life.


Sergeant Dean Rodney

In his 23 years on the job, 41 Division Sergeant Dean Rodney has been physically confronted many times when responding to emergencies and trying to make arrests.

“This comes with the work you do,” he said, of having to fend off an assault.

On March 23, 2023, Sergeant Rodney responded to a call for a man who was acting irrationally and threatening people in a shopping mall.

From the moment he arrived on scene, Sergeant Rodney was immediately faced with danger, confronted with the man who was armed with a knife.

Employing de-escalation skills from the outset, Sergeant Rodney calmly spoke to the agitated man, and successfully de-escalated him until he eventually put his knife in his waistband, and raised his hands so that Sgt. Rodney could approach him. 

As Sergeant Rodney got closer to the man, to attempt to take him into custody, the man kicked the officer in his left knee. Security officer Earl Samuel, who had originally called police and had been backing up Sergeant Rodney, joined in the struggle to gain control of the man.

“He was standing directly behind the suspect, and when he saw what had happened to me, he jumped in and tackled the suspect to the ground to assist with the arrest,” said Sergeant Rodney.

While on the ground, the man – who struggled with Sgt. Rodney as he tried to handcuff him – took out the six-inch bladed knife from his waistband. He was disarmed and taken into custody.

“We don’t do this job for recognition,” said Sergeant Rodney. “We respond to calls daily to help people. Sometimes, things go sideways in a hurry, especially when weapons are involved, and you have to rely on your training.”

Sergeant Dean Rodney is commended for his compassionate, perceptive and courageous response to an extremely dangerous situation. 

 

Police Constables Christopher Dowling, Nana Kiany, Trevor McGarrity, Colin Nasmith, Michael Rowe & Paul Frias

On November 21, 2022, a young man called 9-1-1, telling the Communications Operator that his father had shoved and hit him. The caller then said his father was on his 17th floor balcony, saying that he wanted to kill himself and was about to jump.

Constables Paul Frias, Nana Kiany, Trevor McGarrity, Colin Nasmith, Michael Rowe and Christopher Dowling rushed to the scene, and immediately launched into collectively effective action, each playing a crucial role in this collaborative response. 

Constable Frias was the first onto the balcony, finding the man precariously perched, standing on the railing in socked feet, without holding anything for support, rocking back and forth, and refusing to listen to anyone.

Constable McGarrity gained entry to the balcony above to potentially take hold of the man. Constable Dowling took over radio communications, providing detailed updates for everyone involved, and Constable Kiany gathered information from the man’s family to meaningfully support the de-escalation process.

Constable Frias determined it would be best to take a non-confrontational position, so he backed off; speaking calmly with the man.

“My first priority was to make contact with him, get him to focus on me and try to convince him to come down from the railing,” said Constable Frias, who also allowed a loved one to encourage the man at one point.

This 20 minute-conversation convinced the man to descend from the railing, when Constable Rowe helped secure him from harm. Constables Dowling and Nasmith then took him into custody, and brought him to hospital for treatment. 

“All of the officers who responded to this call worked effectively as a team in order to safely rescue the man who was intent on taking his life,” said 33 Division Unit Commander Superintendent Donovan Locke. “Our officers risk their lives daily by putting themselves in frontline response to meet the needs of the community and, in this instance, someone who was in crisis. This is the pinnacle of de-escalation. They effectively used their training to positively interact with the individual and, as a result, we had a positive outcome.”

Police Constables Christopher Dowling, Nana Kiany, Trevor McGarrity, Colin Nasmith, Michael Rowe and Paul Frias are commended for their incredible teamwork, successfully working together to save a life.


Constables Jaime Briceno Benitez, Brian Carroll, Eric Jutras & Joachim Tingle

On August 16, 2023, 11 Division Constables Jaime Briceno Benitez, Brian Carroll, Joachim Tingle and Eric Jutras responded to a tiered call for a person in distress in the water at Sunnyside Beach.

On arrival, they saw a man struggling to stay above water, about 50 metres from shore well, past the break wall.  Upon arrival, recognizing the urgency, the team of officers quickly took action.

Constables Carroll, Tingle and Jutras jumped into the water, while Constable Briceno Benitez stayed on shore to communicate with the dispatcher and the Marine Unit.

At the rock break wall, Constable Tingle was able to spot the man again and swam out to him. He brought the man back to the break wall where Constables Carroll and Jutras pulled him to safety. At that point, the Marine Unit arrived to bring everyone to shore safely. 

It was later determined that the man had been in the water for nearly an hour before bystanders spotted him, an extremely perilous situation. It was recognized that the man had been in crisis, and he was brought to hospital for assessment.

Constable Jutras, who joined the Service in 2020, said the story highlights the importance of teamwork in the Service’s work, which, here, saved a man’s life.

“We are a very close-knit unit, so it is heartening to see that closeness and teamwork translate to such a positive impact on the community; here, rescuing a person in crisis,” he said, of the teamwork in this situation.

Constables Jaime Briceno Benitez, Brian Carroll, Eric Jutras and Joachim Tingle are honoured for their exemplary teamwork, and unwavering bravery in saving the life of this individual. 


Detective Patrick Stewart
             
While assigned to the Homicide and Missing Persons Unit as part of a training program, then Detective-Constable Patrick Stewart, took a special interest in the murder of the 2018 murder of Jermaine Titus, who was gunned down on Weston Rd. while out to get a haircut.

Investigators quickly identified the shooter as Shamoi Palmer, but were unsure of why he opened fire across three lanes of traffic on the busy street to shoot Titus.

Working tirelessly on the case, alongside the Crown’s office, Detective Stewart was able to uncover that Palmer had been targeting a different man on the other side of the road that day, alerted to the intended target’s whereabouts by Palmer’s girlfriend Egypt Morgan. It was determined that Titus, a 32-year-old father, was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“Patrick went above and beyond; he was tenacious and he identified an alternative theory of the case that the victim was not the intended target… There had been no connection identified between the victim and the shooter,” said Inspector Michael Patterson, who oversaw the Homicide team working on the case. “He brought the theory to life using every investigative aid afforded to him; he didn’t stop – production order and production order to gather evidence – and this was not even his primary job, as he was also preparing other cases.”

In January 2023, Palmer was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for 25 years, and Morgan was sentenced to 10 years in prison for manslaughter for her role in the murder.

“No one would have known about Ms. Morgan’s involvement or Mr. Palmer’s motive to kill if it weren’t for the relentless and hard work of Detective Constable Stewart,” wrote Assistant Crown Attorney Alice Bradstreet. “It was clear that DC Stewart saw this case not only as a responsibility of his job; he was invested and truly cared about the outcome.”

Detective Stewart is commended for his persistent and dedicated pursuit of justice, leading to two successful arrests in this complicated and tragic case.


Constables Andrew Court, Pawel Grzesniak & Vesselin Ivanov

On August 13, 2022, Constables Andrew Court, Pawel Grzesniak and Vesselin Ivanov responded to a 9-1-1 call for a stabbing. 

Once on scene, a woman covered in blood frantically told the 41 Division officers that her husband had just stabbed her in the neck, and that, very worryingly, her younger child inside the home.

It was confirmed by witnesses that a child was heard screaming, and seen being pulled back inside the house after unsuccessfully trying to flee.

Toronto Fire Service members, who had happened upon the scene in the course of other duties, arrived to assist in the response, breaching the door alongside the officers.

The man immediately rushed at the firefighters and police with a knife, ignoring officers’ demands to drop the knife.

The officers had no choice but to shoot the man. The man retreated inside, but again, rushed at officers before they were able to control him and tend to his injuries. The man later died in hospital.

The decisive and brave actions of this team of officers saved the life of the child.

“It was a terrible situation and we were relieved that the child was unharmed,” said Constable Court. “This was a total team effort to help this child.”

Constables Andrew Court, Pawel Grzesniak and Vesselin Ivanov are honoured for their courageous, resolute actions in a devastating situation, preventing the loss of a child’s life.

 

Constables Kristen Haig-Brown, Chelsea Cullen, Jeremy Moore, Andrea Sargeant & Stanislav Traytchev

On March 31, 2023, a security guard at a bar denied entry to a group of men, due to a strong belief that they were concealing firearms. 

The group then drove off in a black Mercedes, and the guard immediately informed off-duty Constable Jeremy Moore who had been leaving the bar. Constable Moore then tailed the vehicle from a safe distance, and called Durham Police while providing updates on their location.

The call was transferred to the Toronto Police Service, and Traffic Services Constables Kristen Haig-Brown, Chelsea Cullen, Andrea Sargeant and Stanislav Traytchev were assigned to intercept the vehicle. They narrowed their search based on the updated locations of the vehicle. Constables Sargeant and Traytchev then led the dynamic takedown, boxing in the vehicle on Strachan Avenue, with Constables Haig-Brown and Cullen arriving to help apprehend the men. 

A loaded firearm was located under the passenger seat, and the three men were arrested.

“The incident was a life-or-death scenario where firearms were involved,” said Inspector Matt Moyer of Traffic Services. “In a time where firearms are used to attack police officers, the officers involved in this incident kept focused, and relied on their training, resulting in a positive outcome, where no one was hurt.”

Constable Sargeant said the takedown clearly demonstrates the tremendous importance of relying on your team daily as a police officer.

“There is no such thing as ever having to do something on your own when you work with other intelligent and diligent officers,” she said.

We commend Constables Kristen Haig-Brown, Chelsea Cullen, Jeremy Moore, Andrea Sargeant and Stanislav Traytchev for their professional and coordinated response that ensured that a dangerous situation involving multiple firearms was resolved effectively and safely.

 

Constable Alexandra Shakov

On July 2023, Sergeant James Fairclough and Constables Alexandra Shakov and Scott Surridge of 14 Division were on bicycles on Jameson Ave., responding to a call for a stolen vehicle.

The officers approached the vehicle at a red light on King St. W. Constable Surridge dismounted his bike, while Neighbourhood Community OfficerConstable Shakov attempted to engage with the occupants of the vehicle. However, the driver quickly accelerated around a stopped vehicle into a live lane of traffic, narrowly missing another officer and colliding with Constable Shakov, pinning her against another vehicle, before speeding off.

Constable Shakov was transported to hospital, and received 25 stitches on her leg.

Sergeant James Fairclough said Constable Shakov’s brave attempt to stop the vehicle, and her composure in the face of injury was remarkable.

“I was quite astounded by how brave and composed Alex was in light of everything that had just happened,” said Sergeant Fairclough, a 21-year veteran. “She was very interested in apprehending the suspects, and focused on the job at hand, even though she had just gone through a traumatic event.” The occupants of the vehicle were later arrested, thanks to a team effort by fellow officers.

“I am so grateful for how everyone at our Division worked to apprehend the people responsible for the incident,” said Constable Shakov, who is in her ninth year with the Service. “The support I received was overwhelming, and I am so happy for that.”

Tonight, we honour Constable Alexandra Shakov for her incredible bravery and unwavering dedication to duty.


Constable Don Louie E. Laurel

On September 24, 2023, Homicide investigators took carriage of an investigation into the stabbing death of a 23-year-old man in the area of Yonge St. and Hendon Ave.

Several witnesses were from the Filipino community, and investigators immediately sought out a Tagalog-speaking officer, who turned out to be both a translator and investigative asset.

Neighbourhood Community Officer Constable Don Laurel, of 32 Division, was enlisted to assist in interviewing a witness, who had been with the victim during the incident. In addition to assisting with the translation, Constable Laurel used his extensive knowledge of the area and the community to effectively help clarify the witness statement.

Constable Laurel was on foot patrol the same day, two members of the Filipino community approached him, saying they were willing to provide information about the murder. He also received intelligence from a community member who provided him with a screenshot of a post on social media with an investigative lead.

Homicide Detective Sergeant Henri Marsman was impressed by Constable Laurel’s immersion in the investigation.
"Constable Laurel speaks the language and has a lot of contacts within the Filipino community. But it did not just end there. He actively made himself visible in the area and located two witnesses that we would never have been aware of,” Detective Marsman said. “He also assisted us greatly with translation, providing some important context and innovative ideas about how to approach some of the witnesses."
It is clear that Constable Laurel’s deep and powerful relationship with the community, built and fostered over many years, was instrumental in aiding him in this investigation. 

Constable Laurel is to be commended for his crucial and multi-faceted assistance in a murder investigation, leading to a significant arrest in this case.

 

Constables Sheik Fyzul, Murtaza Popalzai, Farzad Ghotbi & Mustafa Popalzai

Tonight, we also honour a group of police officers who rallied behind the Turkish community after a devastating earthquake in parts of Turkey and Syria in February 2023.

Together, Constables Farzad Ghotbi, Mustafa Popalzai, Sheik Fyzul and Murtaza Popalzai successfully led a coordinated effort for a donation drive, that brought together units across the Toronto Police Service, the Ontario Provincial Police, Wellington County, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and the Oshawa’s Sheriff Office.

This group of compassionate and committed officers collaborated with the Turkish Federation, the Turkish Consulate in Toronto and other Turkish organizations, putting together a two-week donation drive that impressively raised nearly $112,000 worth of items, including tents, winter jackets and boots, baby formula, diapers, First Aid supplies, flashlights and other clothing.

Detective Constable Popalzai said that watching video footage of children buried under rubble and the overall devastation was overwhelming, and he felt compelled to act.

“It really was a no-brainer to get involved and help,” said the Detective Constable who is assigned to the Homicide and Missing Persons Unit. “As officers, it is in our DNA to help others. At times, it gets difficult due to logistics, but we were so thrilled to be able to work out the logistics here, and to assist the people of Turkey and Syria, thousands of miles away after one of the worst earthquakes in the last century. Millions of people are homeless, and it will take years to rebuild.”

Constables Sheik Fyzul, Murtaza Popalzai, Farzad Ghotbi and Mustafa Popalzai are honoured for their kind, coordinated response to a global tragedy, rallying together to lead this impressive fundraising effort that provided direct assistance for those impacted by this terrible earthquake, and demonstrated that the Toronto Police Service truly cares.


Constables Alechia Cracknell, Melinda Mantle & Kathleen Petersen

Five years ago, Malvern Neighbourhood Community Officers Constables Melinda Mantle and Kathleen Petersen, alongside community partners, sought to address human trafficking happening in their neighbourhood by speaking directly to young women about how to recognize trafficking and protect themselves.

These pioneering and inspiring officers created the Women’s Empowerment Initiative to promote women’s self-worth, their ability to determine their own choices, and their right to influence social change for themselves and others.

“We wanted to educate these young women about human trafficking, and to concretely demonstrate to the youth in the community the great support that they have,” said Constable Mantle, noting that community members told them that young women were being groomed as sex workers.

These officers have employed a comprehensive partnership approach, teaming up with a variety of community social service agencies and partners to deliver online and in-person sessions with at-risk youth, young leaders in the community, as well as parents/guardians, community workers and educators.

“Community acts with everybody, it’s not just police or one organization – it’s everyone working together,” said Constable Mantle, who is now partnered with Constable Alechia Cracknell in this dynamic and evolving initiative that has since expanded beyond Malvern.

Inspector Michael Williams said that this initiative is a concrete example of crime prevention using a collaborative approach.

“The workshops provide real-life skills in topics such as healthy relationships, safe social media practices and proper self care,” he said. “I want to thank everyone who took the time to help make these events a huge success by investing in our future, and inspiring these young women to be the best version of themselves.”

Constables Alechia Cracknell, Melinda Mantle and Kathleen Petersen are honoured for their excellent and inspirational leadership, and their commendable use of an innovative, collaborative approach to tackle a major issue in our communities. 

 

Civilian Excellence Award

Booking Officer Kelly Penton 

On May 19, 2023 while working the day shift, Booking Officer Kelly Penton received a phone call at the front desk from a man advising he was at Scarborough Town Centre with the aim of causing harm to an old acquaintance. He also claimed he had a knife.
Booking Officer Penton calmly engaged the man who, a short time later, as a result of her discussions with him, walked into the Division and surrendered the knife to Booking Officer Penton.

Booking Officer Penton, and other Service members displayed tremendous empathy and compassion with the man, who cooperated with them, while admitting he was in distress and did not wish to harm anyone.

Apprehended under the Mental Health Act, the man was subsequently transported to hospital for assessment and treatment. After his release, he and his family were provided additional resources through the FOCUS table at the Division, which helps connect people who are in need of community supports with those resources.

Booking Officer Penton said that taking care of this person alongside her colleagues was extremely fulfilling. 

“This was a situation where someone was in distress and was seeking help, so I am happy that I, along with team members at our Division, were able to help him and resolve the situation without anyone getting harmed.”

Booking Officer Kelly Penton is to be commended for her level-headed, compassionate response to a person in crisis, and her ability to calmly and kindly resolve this incident, without anyone coming to harm.

 

Business Excellence Award

Assistant Manager Roberta Darnborough | Analyst Ritul Anand | Executive Officer Melissa Gibson | Superintendent Ishmail Musah | Staff Sergeant Asif Ali | Staff Sergeant Michelle Campbell | Manager Stephanie Sayer | Coordinator Kevin Masterman  

The Toronto Police Service is committing to attracting, hiring and retaining a workforce that reflects the city we serve. 

In pursuit of that important objective, from 2020 to 2022, the Talent Acquisition, Workforce Planning and Insights and Corporate Communication teams developed a series of integrated and proactive approaches to promote, attract and measure recruitment and selection. One of the first phases of this work was to begin socio-demographic data collection as part of our hiring processes, to be able to report the demographics on who is applying and who is hired.  

In addition, the Talent Acquisition and Corporate Communication teams developed a number of effective recruitment strategies targeting underrepresented groups, including a 2022 online recruitment campaign entitled “Why TPS,” resulting in 33,000 click-throughs, and 35 million impressions, significantly widening the reach of our organization.

These data collection and promotion efforts led to important and necessary adjustments and process changes along the way, resulting in significantly enhancing the diversity of the organization’s workforce.   

Between 2020 and 2022:

  • cadet classes increased in racial diversity by 33%, with a 39% increase in hiring of Black Members
  • there was a 15% increase in cadets fluent in two-plus languages
  • the number of female Uniform Senior Officers increased from 18% in 2019 to 25% by the end of 2022 

Since that time, these heartening trends continue.  The teams continue to collaborate on innovative recruitment approaches, and to use data insights to inform hiring, promotion and training decisions.

This group of officers and civilian Service members is recognized for their incredible team effort in devising innovative and effective strategies to increase the diversity of our organization, one of the foremost priorities of our Service.

 

Police Animal Excellence Award 2023

Detective Sergeant Michael Palermo & Police Dog Luke
Organized Crime Enforcement

The inaugural recipients of the Police Animal Excellence Award are being recognized for their dogged effort to find an 86-year-old man with dementia.

The man, who suffered from other underlying medical conditions, went missing from his Lawrence Ave. E. apartment building late on October 19, 2023, leaving behind his mobility devices, making him vulnerable to falls.

Adjacent to his building is a heavily wooded ravine that, when combined with his frailty and without shoes, and dressed in little clothing, presented significant and immediate safety concerns.

Detective Sergeant Palermo, along with his five-year-old canine partner Luke – a highly motived half German Shepherd, half Belgian Malinois cross – carefully assessed the hazards associated with the ravine, and began to track the man.

A steady rain made finding a track more difficult than usual, with the team gaining and losing momentum, but persisting with the search.

“We worked together for four years as partners so if there was no scent, I could tell by his reactions and body language,” Detective Sergeant Palermo said. “But from what he showed me, the intensity, the way he was pulling with his nose down to the ground, I knew there was scent; it was just a matter of taking the time and pinpointing an exact track.”

After more than an hour through brush in pitch black conditions, they came to a ridge and Luke began barking. Using his flashlight, Detective Sargeant Palermo found the man lying down and covered in leaves, suffering from the cold, but otherwise uninjured.

Throughout it all, Superintendent Colin Greenaway said the team never lost hope in their search.

“Michael’s hard work and dedication resulted in the life of an elderly male being saved,” he said. “At no point, did he ever think of giving up. His genuine care for the community kept him focused, despite the odds that faced him.”

Inspector Craig Young also expressed pride in the dedication and professionalism demonstrated by Detective Sergeant Palermo, and Luke.

“It was in keeping with the highest traditions of the Toronto Police Service and is one more example of excellence of which the residents of Toronto can be justifiably proud,” he said. “It was an outstanding effort for which both Detective Sergeant Palermo and Luke should be recognized.”

This incident exemplifies the incredible work of the animals in the Toronto Police Service; their loyalty, determination and dedication to duty.

Detective Sergeant Michael Palermo and his canine partner Luke are the inaugural recipients of the Police Animal Excellence Award for their extraordinary commitment, teamwork and perseverance, working together to save a life.

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