The legacy of a veteran Toronto police officer, who passed away suddenly, is being memorialized through an annual award unveiled on November 16 at the Service Awards ceremony at police headquarters.
Robert Qualtrough, who served with distinction and honour during his 34 years with the Service, died in October 2014.
Constables Gary Gomez and Dale Nichiporik of 42 Division were the inaugural award co-winners. The award recognizes community and Service members for excellence and leadership in an innovative and effective police-community partnerships.
“This is a significant honour for our team, particularly since it is named after someone I knew,” said Gomez, who joined the Service 25 years ago. “Even though I didn’t work with him, I knew of him and his distinguished contributions to the Service.”
Gomez and Nichiporik were recognized for successfully rolling out two community-based programs that brought the community together and increased safety.
In the wake of an upsurge in break-and-enters last year in East Scarborough, 42 Division devised a unique approach, using community and canine partners.
Dog-walkers were encouraged to call police if they noticed any suspicious activity while out walking their pets.
Gomez and Nichiporik – he was unable to attend the event because he was out of the country – along with their Crime Prevention team, conceived the “Paws for the Cause” initiative.
“It was a plan to basically let people know what to look for,” recalled Gomez. “When we were thinking about a group of people who would be out on the street many times during the day, it occurred to us that it would be dog-walkers, so we zeroed in on them.”
The response was overwhelming.
“At first they thought they were supposed to be fighting crime. We had some citizens calling, saying they had big bad dogs and they would go out there and get the bad guys,” Gomez said. “We had to remind them we were not looking for vigilantes. All we wanted them to do was call us if they saw something suspicious.
“We conducted about five training sessions and give them tips about what to look for. Some said they saw suspicious movements but weren’t sure what to do. We also found out, during those sessions, that there were people who didn't know what number to call. These sessions were really educational.”
About seven years ago, the 42 Division team started the “Seniors & Law Enforcement Together” (SALT) program.
“It was created to assist in the protection and empowerment of one of our most vulnerable groups within society, our seniors,” Gomez said. “In our daily dealings with seniors in the Malvern community, Dale and I realized there was a need to do something for them, so weekly workshops to address such issues as pedestrian safety, internet fraud, and other scams were arranged. We also reached out to members of a local church who we knew had a substantial following of seniors and organized a committee that meets twice a month to discuss topics of concern to them.”
Gomez and Nichiporik also engaged seniors in training sessions dealing with seniors.
“That was very beneficial because what we found was that, when seniors engage other seniors, much more is accomplished than when we try to engage them,” he added.
Qualtrough’s family, including younger brother Jim, also a Toronto police officer, attended the awards ceremony.
“It meant so much to our family for the board to honour Bobby in this way and for us to be included in the selection process,” he said. “Picking a winner wasn’t easy, but I was super-excited when the decision was made to award it to a 42 Division team. I worked there and with Gary, so it means a lot.”
The award will be presented annually to Service and community members who have demonstrated excellence and leadership through their participation in an innovative and effective police-community partnership initiative.
Local Councillor Michael Thompson said Qualtrough was an outstanding Scarborough resident and police leader.
“As a police leader, he had great impact in the community, as well as in terms of the work he did with young police officers in his leadership role as the 41 Division Superintendent,” he said. “He was someone that could be counted on and he would do everything that was possible to assist the community."
This award is open to all uniform and civilian members of the Service and their community partners.