Neighbourhood Approach Creates Safer Space
Four officers are now assigned to the area as Neighbourhood Officers with the mandate to reduce crime, much of it related to substance abuse, and develop partnerships with community members and social service agencies.
During the summer months this year, the Neighbourhood TAVIS Initiative (NTI), a 29-officer team, managed a 29% reduction in violent crime, assault, firearms, kidnapping, murder, sexual assault, weapons and robbery) in the area bounded by Wellesley St to the north, Queen St to the south, Church St to the west and Parliament St to the east, roughly covering the south St. Jamestown and Moss Park neighbourhoods.
“I think the ongoing Neighbourhood Officer initiative came about directly due to the light shone by the NTI… it showed management (at 51 Division) that we require a more focused Neighbourhood Officer response,” said Elizabeth Byrnes, Superintendent at 51 Division.
The NTI team consisted of 24 constables, four supervisors and one staff sergeant – who covered day and afternoon shifts on foot and bike patrol with the mandate to respond to community crime concerns as well as build partnerships with community members and social service agencies.
“The NTI is not tied down to the radio… we are out there communicating with community leaders, with citizens… and so we are able to build bridges between the police and the community,” said Constable Dave Smith, of having the freedom over the summer to target community concerns.
Much of the work of the team was to patrol the neighbourhood and follow up on community complaints, allowing officers to manage and follow up on calls – which they wouldn’t be able to do while working as part of the Primary Response Unit (PRU), who respond to radio calls.
“If we want to work on finding people who are wanted, or help someone out in the community - we have the freedom to do so” explained Constable Brent Larmour.
With the NTI teams patrolling on foot or bikes, police visibility increased in the neighbourhood, which was appreciated by many residents of the area at a virtual town hall held by the Division post-NTI on October 7.
“I saw a noticeable difference in my area (in crimes), congratulations on doing that,” said Mary, who called in during the town hall meeting and lives in the Dundas Street and Sherbourne Street area.
Another resident, John, who also lives in the Dundas Street and Sherbourne Street neighbourhood, called into ask for the NTI program to continue.
“We need TAVIS and we need to have this help (from police),” emphasized John.
Another caller, Colleen, turned the questions of the enforcement part of the NTI to longer-term issues: “What are police doing, other than arresting and locking up individuals? What are they doing for the impoverished people of the neighbourhood?” she asked.
Such community feedback, along with observations from the NTI team, prompted Byrnes to form a Neighbourhood Officer program for Moss Park. The area not only requires policing but also a focus on getting different parts of the system to work together on long-term issues such as mental health, addiction, homelessness and housing, said Byrnes.
In answering Colleen’s question, the superintendent added that “the boots on the ground, if they have the ability to connect these people to the right agencies they do so… these officers are a lifeline for some of these people.”
The officers on the ground the superintendent referred to, also learned a lot about their community from their NTI experience.
“Some of the people who are hanging around on the streets, whether they’re homeless or not, you get to know them a lot more and you realize that some of these people are down on their luck… and it’s a good way to teach officers and community people themselves to be able to get along… and create goals in order to be a safer community,” said Smith.
Similarly, community members seemed to take more of an interest in crime prevention in their neighbourhood, as Byrnes remarked on the difference of the pre-NTI town hall versus the post-NTI town hall: “This time (post-NTI) people were asking what they could do about certain problems, versus telling us about those problems."
Byrnes said a drop in crime is a positive outcome, but the true measure will come through residents feeling safer in their community.
“We want to improve quality of life,” said Byrnes. “A reduction in crime is observable but that’s not sufficient unless you have an increased perception of safety.”
Neighbourhood Officers, ConstablesAndrew Blunk,Susan Crawford,Julie Rice andIan Gallagher are assigned to the task of improving the police-community partnership in the Moss Park/South St. Jamestown area.
A simple way residents saw this improvement was through patrolling by officers in back laneways – a total of 240 hours in just a few weeks – that Byrnes said resulted in emails of thanks to the Division from people noting they felt much safer in using their back laneways.
At the end of the day, Byrnes feels that a way to start creating safer communities to start “using public spaces for positive community activities giving fewer opportunities for negative activities” to occur.