Somali Officers Address Forum

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 11:44 a.m. January 20, 2015

Three years ago, Deputy Chief Peter Sloly travelled to Minneapolis to meet with Chief Janee Harteau and observe the innovative efforts the city’s police to respond to its policing needs, particularly as it relates to the Somali community.

A man rests his head in his hands sitting beside a man and a woman at a table
Minneapolis officer Mohamed Abdullahi listens to a community question alongside Faduma Mohamed, of Positive Change Toronto, and fellow Minneapolis officer Abdiwahab Ali

Minneapolis, with the largest Somali community in the United States, has attributed a decrease in violent crime in the Somali community to the presence of a handful of Somali police officers in their department.

On his return, Sloly met with Faduma Mohamed of Positive Change Toronto, an advocacy group established to reduce gun violence in North Etobicoke, particularly in the Dixon Rd. and Queen’s Plate Dr. areas.

“We met in my office and out of that came the idea of the Somali Outreach program that was part of the summer safety plan in 2012,” said Sloly. “From that success, we realized how important officers in neighbhourhhods were and this led to the Neighbourhood Officer program, the first deployment of which was the Somali Outreach into the Dixon Road community at the start of 2013.”

Last year, several officers from 23 Division neighbourhood program visited Minneapolis.

As part of the Toronto-Minneapolis Officers’ Exchange Program, officers Mohamed Abdullahi and Abdiwahab Ali of the Minneapolis Police Department came to Toronto last week to meet with police leaders and observe policing in the Canadian-Somali community, with whose leaders they also engaged in dialogue.

“This is actually the most pure exchange program that I have been involved in in my 26 years of policing,” Sloly said, at a forum on January 17, organized by Positive Change and the Urban Alliance on Race Relations. “This is a great example of the community and police working together for best practices.

“We’re applying that neighbourhood approach. We’ve employed those police officers on Dixon Rd., right around Woodbine Racetrack. They’re in there for two years and develop trusting long-lasting relationships and a deep knowledge of community conditions.”

We’re applying that neighbourhood approach. We’ve employed those police officers on Dixon Rd., right around Woodbine Racetrack. They’re in there for two years and develop trusting long-lasting relationships and a deep knowledge of community conditions

Toronto Police spent about $500,000 to employ six officers in 23 Division as part of the Somali Liaison Unit, a renewable two-year project as a way to build trust in the predominantly Somali community and to engage youth.

A refugee from Somalia, Ali joined the Minneapolis Police Department nine years ago.

“Deputy Chief Sloly and the officers who came last year looked at what we did and they invited us to come here,” said Ali. “I consider myself, first and foremost, to be a community member and then a police officer. This is my community.”

Toronto Police Services Board Chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee said the forum provided an enormously important opportunity for dialogue and discussion between members of the Somali-Canadian community and the police.

“Our Board and the police service understand that effective provision of policing services depends upon meaningful partnerships with all the communities that make up our city and its neighbourhoods,” he said. “This very much includes the Somali-Canadian community… Events such as the one taking place today serve to strengthen this very important police-community relationship across Toronto in all of its neighbourhoods. I am confident that the knowledge and information gained through the day’s discussion will bolster efforts to strengthen the relationship between the police and the Somali-Canadian community.”

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