A group of over 100 members of the Driftwood community were introduced to four uniformed officers who will be dedicated to the community on a long-term basis, after a year plagued by gun violence.
Last year, the Division experienced the highest number of gun-related occurrences in the city. There were 33 confirmed firearm discharges resulting in 17 injuries and two homicides. Of the 33 discharges, nine occurred in the Driftwood community.
Constables Jay Shin, Sean O'Neill, Brian Sutherland and Dalida Matias have been assigned to work in the community on a full-time basis.
“They are yours, guaranteed, for the next two years, Staff Sergeant Richard Blanchard, the Division’s Community Response Unit manager, told residents at a town hall meeting at the Driftwood Community Centre on January 22. “They will be embedded here and hopefully we can make a difference in this community.”
The quartet was selected after a rigours screening process.
“There was a job call and we looked at the applicants’ skills, abilities and experience in this Division,” Blanchard added.
“They are the four best that applied.”
Superintendent Tony Riviere, the Division’s unit commander, encouraged residents to make full use of the neighbourhood officers.
“We want them to get to know you and develop partnerships and trust,” he said. “That’s what they are there for.”
Inspector Riyaz Hussein echoed Riviere’s sentiments.
“They are now part of your community,” he said. “Please just go up to them and say hello before you leave here tonight. They are here to serve you and address your needs.”
We want them to get to know you and develop partnerships and trust
Nearly 120 residents turned up at the town hall meeting to discuss community safety.
Riviere said the establishment of the Neighbourhood Officer presence is part of a larger campaign to eradicate gun violence in the community.
“We have an immediate response and that includes a heightened presence of uniformed and plainclothes officers,” he noted. “The expectation is that these officers will engage members of the community. This is a direct response from us to reclaim a community that is obviously being held hostage by a few individuals. We will not allow that to continue.”
Detective Sergeant Leah Gilfoy presented a summary of the gun-related incidents – 12 – that have occurred in the Division since last May.
“Due to the unacceptable level of gun violence, dedicated neighbourhood officers have been assigned to this area,” she said. “The cases are unacceptable and are being investigated.”
Community resident Christine Boney welcomed the police presence in the community.
“I am happy to see officers handing out brochures in my building,” she said. “In light of what’s happening around the world, where cops are under siege, I am proud of Toronto cops. You guys are doing a great job. May God bless you.”
While 31 Division police are actively engaging students in several of the area’s public schools, Boney would like see the police provide programs for black males between the ages of 19-26.
“The challenge is to reach that age group,” said Riviere. “If you look around, you will see that that demographic is not really represented at this meeting. We have been trying to engage that group without success. While their needs might not be police-related, we, as an organization, are strategically located where we can reach out to the agencies that may be better equipped to respond to their needs.”
The Division runs a number of programs in nine public schools in the community. They include the Gang Resistance and Education program aimed at presenting young people with positive choices, Sensible Students that teach kids literacy skills and Flashlight Freddie that teaches them leadership skills.