A year ago, Lisa Pitocco’s husband wanted to move from their Downsview-Roding Park neighbourhood. There were a rash of car break-ins, arsons and a series of sexual assaults in Roding Park that had the community feeling scared.
Similarly, a few doors down from Pitoco, Lesley Tenaglia and husband Mark Tenaglia were also frustrated with the insecurity they were feeling in the neighbourhood. It was time to reclaim their neighbourhood and make it feel safe again.
Lesley called 31 Division, hoping to speak to someone about organizing a meeting with the community and officers.
Twenty minutes later, Mark opened the door to an officer standing on his doorstep.
Constable Mark Furzecott spoke to Lesley and the two decided to have a town-hall style meeting and address the community’s concerns.
A year-and-a-half later, and Roding Park is full of children and people. Mark feels safe biking or jogging at night, they are happy to have their kids play outside again. The community has taken ownership of the area they live in and they work with police to keep it safe. They send security camera video to police when needed and generally keep an eye out for anything unusual happening in the area.
31 Division CRU has started a Facebook page, with the help of Mark and Lesley, and they attend as many Neighbourhood Watch meetings as they can.
“People just wanted to know what was happening in their community and it dawned on me to update them with occurrences in the neighbourhood through emails,” says Furzecott. “Then, when the Facebook page was started, it just got a life of its own,” he says.
“When Mark and his team came, along things started happening. We started seeing results, neighbours listened, they joined the watch and joined the Facebook page and, now, everybody seems to be using it amazingly,” says Pitoco.
The man who was allegedly sexually assaulting women in the park was eventually arrested, too.
That is why Pitoco took upon herself to organize a community barbecue to let people know the park was safe again. “I wanted the barbecue in the park just to let everyone know that it is now safe… I wanted people to know it is okay to bring your children back and enjoy this beautiful space we have in the middle of the city,” she says.
The relationship between the police and community has taken a better turn ever since the Neighbourhood Watch started and the Facebook page.
“It has one hundred percent changed my job… it has changed the view of the job now that we are able to interact with people on a first-name basis and have them know our first names. It is not uncommon to be down here and have people say ‘thanks’, ‘good job’, ‘stop by for a coffee’ or anything like that which is something we didn’t see before,” says Furzecott.
Constable Russell Keveza adds that “It’s nice that kids are more open to us; they hug us and they play with us… they like being around us which is a nice change from before when they are nervous of us, which makes it upsetting.”
Pitocco, too, has seen a change in the community towards police. “People realize that they’re human beings, just like we are, and they are putting their life on the line to protect us,” she says.
A proactive role in community safety has helped the Downsview-Roding community empower themselves and make their community better. According to Mark Tenaglia, he now gets requests on the Facebook page from people as far as Vaughn asking how they can implement something similar.
For Furzecott and his team, getting more information from residents also helps them gather statistics and be more aware of small crimes in the area. The increase in police literacy within the community has benefited both officers and residents. “The community is looking out for the community and call us when they need us,” says Furzecott.