At the beginning of their shift on Good Friday 2013, Constable Sean Heffernan and partner Michael Kelly were at Tim Hortons when the personal injury accident call came through that a vehicle with occupants was in the Don River.
“We were just a couple of blocks away and we knew we had to get there in a hurry,” recalled Heffernan, who joined the Service five years ago.
Five teenagers were in a 2009 Acura, heading east on Lakeshore Blvd. E., before it swerved uncontrollably near Don Roadway across three lanes of traffic towards the river. The sport utility vehicle broke through the guardrail and plunged into the water.
Heffernan wanted to jump into the water as soon as he arrived on the scene, but Kelly -- a former Marine Unit member -- advised against it.
“Mike said there may be shopping carts and wood in the water and I could get impaled,” Heffernan recounted.
“After a brief assessment, myself and other officers were provided with ropes and flotation devices. We entered the water in search of the vehicle that had submerged about 20 metres. Looking back, I can tell you the water was very cold, but the only thing on our minds that afternoon was doing everything to help the trapped young people.”
One of the teenagers died in hospital several hours after officers freed him from the wreckage. The four others suffered minor injuries.
Constable Tom Grieve, now with Homicide, was in charge of scene management.
“It was a chaotic and emotionally charged,” he remembered,
“We were not sure at the time how many people were in the vehicle.”
Grieve, along with Heffernan, Kelly, Tyler Brett, Brad Mills and Detective Jamie Clark, were honoured with the 2013 Officers of the Year Award at the Toronto Region Board of Trade on June 4.
“This is the highlight of my career, but I think – more than anything else – it’s recognition for teamwork,” said Grieve, a baseball umpire who officiated at last year’s World Baseball Classic.
“As much as awards are fantastic, serving the community stands out for me.”
Superintendent Elizabeth Byrnes, 51 Division unit commander, lauded the officers’ heroic efforts.
“When the news of that incident broke, I don’t think there was anyone who was a member of the Toronto Police Service who didn’t feel overwhelmed with pride in the work that these guys did by jumping without hesitation into that frigid water,” she said.
“I am so proud of them and what they did.”
Chief Bill Blair also praised the six officers and the other Police Officer(s) of the Month nominees who were recognized at the 47th annual event.
“This is a night we get to acknowledge some extraordinary work by our members,” he said.
“One of the reasons tonight is so important is because, in this city, members of our organization do thousands of things each and every day that make a difference in the quality of people’s lives. That’s why this is such an extraordinary thing, this evening, that we are afforded the opportunity to recognize those particular actions by our members who go above and beyond the call of duty that is something every cop knows about.
“…Even though this particular night is framed as a competition, everyone in this room is a winner. All of the nominees are heroes in our organization and heroes to the people of Toronto. You are role models, examples and an inspiration to everybody who cares about what we do. Your work is appreciated, admired and respected and we are all very proud of you.”
The Officer(s) of the Year is selected by a panel of crime reporters in the city.
In 2009, a Business Excellence Award was established to honour exceptional Service members whose valuable contributions enable the organization to work effectively and efficiently.
#Fraudchat-Crime Prevention Through Social Media was chosen ahead of CASC Automated POA Court Excusal System and Ultimate Survivors.
With 10,000 social media followers in the fall of 2012, Detective Sergeant Cameron Field expanded the social media platform by engaging private, corporate and government partners. In December that year, the Financial Crimes Unit collaborated with the Financial Services Commission of Ontario to launch a one-hour online twitter chat – Fraudchat – to educate the public about financial crimes and fraud.
“I know that, through social media, we could maximise the information we are disseminating to the general public, not just in Toronto but also throughout Canada and the rest of the world,” said Field.
“With that, we created Fraudchat as a weekly Twitter-based program where we could reach out to the public and inform them about all the different kinds of fraud that they could become a victim to and just start tweeting in a kind of virtual talk show. Instead of actually speaking, we are tweeting back and forth. It just shows what happens when we are allowed to use innovative approaches to, not just in fighting crime, but preventing it, using social media at virtually no cost to the Service.”
Superintendent Bryce Evans joined Field in receiving the prestigious award.
“The award is important because what it does is shows the Toronto Police Service and particularly the Financial Crimes Unit and the stakeholders can come together to combat crime by using new technology,” said Evans.
“That’s something that’s great to see.”
A panel of business experts select the Business Excellence Award winner.
Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack joined Police Officer of the Year Committee chair Christopher Worth in congratulating the winners and nominees.
“You are in the company of greatness,” Worth, who recently joined the 14 Division Community Police Liaison Committee, said.
“You know better than most what the people we are here to celebrate tonight go through on a daily basis and you have every reason to be proud and to look with admiration and respect upon the civilians and police officers who we are here to honour and celebrate. This is an evening for us to come together to recognize the dedication to service, the acts of bravery, the good policing and superior investigative skills of the men and women of the Toronto Police Service.
“…This is my annual reality check. For the past 14 years, this is the day I get to look back and reflect on how lucky I am to live in this amazing city, to be able to raise my family here, to build my business here and to know that we are all safe under the protection of all of the members of the Toronto Police Service. To you, I can’t say thank you enough.”
Councillor Mike Del Grande, a member of the Toronto Police Services Board, represented chair Alok Mukherjee who is on vacation.
“For our board, recognizing excellence in our police service is extremely important because it’s due to excellence that’s demonstrated daily by professionals such as this evening’s award recipients,” Mukherjee noted in his remarks read by Del Grande.
“Each Police Officer(s) of the Month has a remarkable story. Each one has demonstrated ethical conduct, professionalism, dedication and bravery of the highest degree. Each one went beyond the call of duty to perform impressively and admirably. Each of these officers is a hero and indeed a role model. As a group, they symbolise policing at its best…Our civilian members are not always recognized, but their work is undoubtedly a critical element in keeping our city safe.”
Peter Meyers, the Toronto Region Board of Trade vice-president responsible for sales and marketing, said the police awards celebration stands out among the nearly 100 events his organization hosts annually.
“These awards are one of the most prestigious on our calendar,” he said.
“We do it because we believe that our police officers need to be recognized for their deep commitment to making Toronto one of the safest cities in the world.”
Broadcaster Barb DGiulio was the master of ceremony.