The Toronto District Catholic School Board (TDCSB) honoured the city’s longest-serving cop and the School Resource Officer (SRO) program at the Service’s Police Week launch on May 16 at St. Basil-the-Great College School.
In his 49th year with the Service, Superintendent Ron Taverner – the 23 Division unit commander – was hailed for his commitment to the community he pledged to serve and protect.
“I met Ron nearly two decades ago while working in Rexdale, which is in 23 Division,” said St. Basil-the-Great principal Ugo Rossi, who presented Taverner with a Service Award. “His leadership, dedication and relentless support to student safety are noteworthy. On my first day as principal at Don Bosco (Catholic Secondary School), he came in, looked at me and stated, ‘you could count on 23 Division for anything you need sir’. What a tremendous inspiration.”
Taverner was also presented with a personalized St. Basil-the-Great official windbreaker, unveiled earlier this year.
The SRO initiative was launched in September 2008 to increase safety in schools.
There were concerns that having an armed officer in a school could lead to the perception that the school environment was dangerous and could only be managed with a police officer in the building or that the police officer would make arrests when children misbehave.
So far, these fears have not materialized.
In addition to taking a proactive approach with schools to build healthy and trusting relationships, the SROs have – in many instances – done more than just make their schools safe. They have gone way above and beyond the call of duty to enhance student’s lives through proactive community policing. Some started recreational programs, others are coaches and mentors, while a few use their own money to provide students with early-morning nutritional meals.
Last November, SROs Tarandip Saini and Michael Bottero, along with Inspector Riyaz Hussein of 31 Division, assisted in evacuating and securing the school after a suspicious package was located in the building.
“The officers comforted the parents and exemplified true professionalism,” said Rossi, who presented Appreciation Awards to the constables.
Saini, who joined the Service eight years ago, said the SRO program is effective.
“It’s an amazing experience, working with staff and students, and it allows us to build positive relationships,” he said.
Bottero said he enjoys the cordial relationships with students.
“They invite me to their graduations and proms and they also approach me with their problems and concerns,” he added. “This is such a phenomenal program that humanizes us.”
On behalf of the TDCSB, Rossi also presented an award to 23 Division SRO program.
Police Week is celebrated this year, from May 15-21, and the theme is: Discover Policing for Safer Communities.
Inspector Dave Rydzik, of the Divisional Policing Support Unit, said the theme supports the ongoing collaboration between police and the community to help create safer and stronger communities in the province.
Born and raised in Scarborough, he said he was attracted to policing at age 13 after an incident at Scarborough Town Centre.
“Me and my friend rode our bikes there, locked them outside and went into the arcade,” he recalled. “We returned just in time to see three boys riding off with them. We pursued the boys, who were bigger than us, and they stopped and confronted us. At the same time, a police car showed up with two officers who promptly arrested the thieves. I thought to myself, ‘that is what I want to do.’
“I was in my early teens and the thought went away. But, while in high school, one of the students graduated and became a police officer. That sparked my interest again and I joined the Service at age 20 after working for a year… This has been a very rewarding career and every day is a different adventure.”
Hussein supported Rydzik and encouraged the students at the event to consider policing as a career.
“After 28 years with the Service, I have found that policing is like no other profession,” he noted. “It’s not a job. It’s a calling. It's one of the few things in which you could have many different careers within one. At the core of policing, you have to have a desire to help people and want to provide for a better and safer community.”
TCDSB director of education Angela Gauthier said Toronto Police personnel are representative of modern-day officers who are positive role models, mentors, coaches, counsellors and – in many cases – much-needed authority figures in students’ daily lives.
“Today in our community, the police are no longer viewed as just law enforcement officers,” she said. “Each and every day, they are important advocates of student safety and well-being and, yes, important members of our family. But, I believe, it goes indeed even beyond that and maybe that is why there is such a good fit between police officers and teachers.
“…Often times in the media, we only hear about the things that police and teachers do wrong. Well, I am proud to say that our example of the work we do together at the TCDSB with the police is about getting it right. We are grateful for the support that Toronto Police provides to students and staff members through various initiatives and partnerships.”
Some of the programs the school board and the police collaborate on include the Kids, Cops & Computer initiative that help deserving and financially challenged youths access the technology and tools they need to reach their academic and personal potential, and the Toronto Recreational Outreach Outtripping Program (TROOP) that exposes young people from some of the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods to canoeing trips and northern communities.
“The foundational element that links us all together, and these programs, is the goal of building positive relationships with youth across the city,” Gauthier said. “We know, however, there are times when students’ behaviour and young peoples’ behavior may cross the line into perhaps criminal and unsavoury behaviour. It’s during these times we are most grateful to be able to rely on the expertise of our police officers.”
Deputy Chief Mike Federico thanked the students and staff for allowing Toronto Police to celebrate the Police Week launch in their school and encouraged the young people to volunteer, while Sergeant Rod Chung and Jason Gill of the Employment Background Unit made a presentation.
Hilry Neale, who aspires to be a police officer, said Humber College’s criminal justice degree program – he graduates next month – provided him with a clear direction of where he wants to go.