A small team in 55 Division, dedicated to helping victims and witnesses of crime, was recognized as a provincial leader in helping those affected by crime.
The 55 Division Victim Support Unit (VSU), the only one of its kind at the Service’s 17 Divisions, was recently honoured with the Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police (OACP) Victims Assistance Committee Award on June 28.
Sponsored by the Ministry of the Attorney General, the award recognizes contributions by provincial police services, either alone or in partnership with private or public community agencies, for improving the level of service provided to victims of crime or other tragedies.
“The work of this unit is rewarding for both the victim and the officer,” said Ontario Provincial Police Superintendent Carson Pardy, the OACP Victims Assistance Committee chair. “It’s great to see that the work of these officers in Toronto is helping the Service reach and assist victims and their families in the 55 Division community.”
The VSU was launched in March 2014 to provide vital support, referrals and information to victims of crime, witnesses and their families at the Division that includes the Beaches, Danforth and Riverdale communities.
The officers assigned to the unit are Detective Constables Jennifer Metzger and Jason Larmer and their supervisor is Detective Stacie Branton.
“The unit has significantly improved access to resources for victims, witnesses and their families,” said Branton. “These officers are constantly meeting with members of community programs to find out what they have to offer, and to make them aware of the VSU and how they can assist each other and work together. They even go as far as to have representatives of these agencies come in to the Division to speak to the PRU officers on training days, so that officers are up to date about the resources within 55 Division.
“Because of the close partnership that the unit members continue to develop with outside agencies, they are able to provide the most relevant and current resources to victims. By taking care of our victims and vulnerable members of society, 55 Division is doing its part to help nurture and improve public confidence and trust, one contact at a time.”
Detective Sergeant Warren Wilson said the creation of the unit also ensured three more officers would be on the road as the section that handled domestic, sexual assault and child abuse was made up of five officers. The Criminal Investigation Bureau at the Division now handles those cases, allowing two more officers to be added to the Primary Response Unit that is dispatched to radio calls.
Wilson said the unit is customer-service-driven.
“Aside from the proactive promotion of the unit, a follow-up call is placed and recorded each and every occurrence where a victim is identified,” he said. “All follow-ups are recorded in a supplementary report, within the original general occurrence, so the investigators are always kept informed. Beyond that, officers and investigators often enlist the unit to assist with a particular situation or case that they are involved in.”
Wilson said there have been 136 supplementary entries recording follow-up support provided by VSU in the first three months of this year.
“The great successes of the unit have not come without some challenges,” he said. “In order for the unit to be effective, both internal and external, people have to know about it, see the value in it, promote it and use it. It has been a process as with anything new, but as officers continue to realise how the unit can actually make their job easier, more efficient and more effective, they spread the word. This is evident by how inundated the unit is with calls and referrals.”
The two officers assigned to the unit work a series of day and afternoon shifts to provide 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. coverage, from Mondays to Fridays.
Last Christmas, 55 Division – led by Metzger – worked closely with a shelter in the Division to bring Christmas cheer to a family.
“Officers raised money and, with the help of generous sponsors, were able to provide crucial necessities such as winter coats and boots, clothing and bedding to a woman and her children who had recently graduated from the shelter to their own home,” said Metzger. “Along with additional volunteers from our Division, we prepared and served a traditional Christmas dinner for the shelter’s residents.”
Larmer said he and Metzger were surprised by the award recognition.
“I guess we didn’t realize how significant an effect the work we are doing has,” he said. “The ultimate goal of this office is to try to stop people from falling through the cracks.”