Giving Back to Community in Uniform
Set to retire in 2025 and already looking for opportunities to fill that time, Mark Lasso chose to volunteer through the Toronto Police Service Auxiliary program.
“I play soccer and volleyball and engage in other athletic activities with Toronto police officers who thought this would be a good fit,” said the school principal. “After taking sometime to absorb what they said, I agreed and here I am.”
Nearly 300 Auxiliaries volunteer 65,000 hours in Toronto annually, assisting in community mobilization initiatives, crime prevention programs, special events, parades, searches for missing persons and emergency call-outs.
Lasso was among 28 new Auxiliary members joining the Service.
“I have done a lot of volunteering through work at schools because there is a lack of funding and a lot of what we do is on our own time,” he said. “This will be different as I will be working along uniformed officers in various roles.”
The graduation ceremony took place on December 12 at the Toronto Police College.
Natalie Green has been busy working as a Correctional officer with the province for the last 22 years.
“It is a challenging and stressful job and I have never had the chance to volunteer before,” she said. “This is the first time I am going to be doing that and I am looking forward to it. I know there is good out there in the community and I want to see that and be part of that.”
There is significant interest in the Auxiliary program as there were about 500 applicants.
Deputy Chief Lauren Pogue said the Auxiliaries bring a great set of skills and experience to their new role.
“From as early as the interview and selection process, it was apparent that our successful applicants brought with them a wealth of diverse life and professional experiences, culture and languages and uniquely reflect the diversity of our amazing city,” she said.
She said Auxiliary Officers allow the Service to respond to the changing needs of the city, most recently to prevent hate crimes and reassure the community with their presence.
“More recently, Auxiliary members have become integral to ensuring public safety and providing a reassuring and calming high visibility presence, specifically around mosques, synagogues, cultural centres, schools and other places of worship,” said Pogue.
In eight weeks of their training period, they were engaged in a variety of academic and practical training to prepare them for their role.
Pogue said it is difficult to adequately sum up the enormous impact that the graduates will have on the Service and the citizens of the city.
“As individuals, you bring so many skills and experiences and these will enhance and enrich the Auxiliary program,” she noted. “We are excited to witness the results of your endeavours and watch you grow.”
Over 75 per cent of the graduates aspire to become police officers and members of the class speak many languages, including Punjabi, Farsi, Swahili, Norwegian, Mandarin, Cantonese, Polish and American Sign Language.
“You bring to the Service an array of ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity, truly reflecting the unique city in which we live,” said Toronto Police Services Board Vice-Chair Lisa Kostakis. “A majority of you were born in a country other than Canada with ethnic origins spanning the globe. You are the greatest ambassadors for your communities, bringing a wide range of backgrounds and experiences to the Service.”
A total of 93 per cent of the graduates have completed post-secondary education, including 11 undergraduate and four Masters degrees and several represent a vast array of professions and stages of life.
The Auxiliaries include people working in roles, such as: business owner, teacher, financial sector professional, psychotherapist, security guards, graphic designer, ferryboat caption and healthcare worker.
“We are lucky to have each one of you, for your talents, your skills and your insights. You truly bring the community into the Service. Upon graduating today, you will become part of an impressive organization. You should all be extremely proud and privileged to stand among those whom you now join…Be proud of yourselves when you are in the community performing your responsibilities. Your role is critical for strengthening our police service. The people of Toronto trust you and rely on you.”
An active volunteer in the Muslim community in the Greater Toronto Area, Marwa Mahmod views her new role as an extension of giving back to the community.
“I just wanted to do something on a larger scale and I think I now have that opportunity,” said the registered psychotherapist who was born in Yemen. “I think there is a bit of gap between my community and Toronto Police and my intent is to help to bridge that space and, in the process, build trust and increase mutual partnerships.”
In each graduating class, the student who demonstrates outstanding performance in the various training programs is presented with the Julian Fantino Award for their proficiency.
A former Toronto Police Chief, Fantino began his career as an Auxiliary member.
The recipient was Daniel Litherland who completed the Police Foundations program at Humber College this year and is a member of the 22 Division Rovers program.
The Lifeguard aspires to be a Toronto Police officer.
The Auxiliary program was established 66 years ago in the aftermath of Hurricane Hazel in 1954 which killed 81 people in Canada, the majority in Toronto.
In the last six decades, members have provided countless hours of service during the 2010 G20 Summit, papal visits in 1984 and 2002 during World Youth Day celebrations, at the 2003 Rolling Stones concert and at the sites of the 1962 propane plant explosion in Maple, the 1969 natural gas explosion in Malton and the 1979 trail derailment in Mississauga.