A Toronto police officer, who was being shouted down by an abusive crowd and assaulted by a community member while trying to save the life a shooting victim, is this year’s recipient of the Toronto Police Officer of the Year Award.
Staff Sergeant Joe Matthews was working a paid duty on August 8, 2015 when the call for the sound of gunshots near Muzik nightclub came over the radio.
“As I went around the south side of the nightclub, I saw someone, covered in blood, entering a taxi,” he said. “It seemed to me that the person was the victim of a shooting.”
Matthews, assigned to 12 Division at the time, took the victim out of the taxi and rendered First Aid.
“Traffic was congested and it took quite a while for an ambulance to get to the scene,” he recalled. “During that time, the crowd felt I should have driven the victim to hospital and perhaps I didn’t care about the victim. I tried to calm the crowd down and a citizen jumped in to help me do that.”
While helping the shooting victim and trying to control the crowd, Matthews was punched in the face by a female bystander.
He said the victim was his primary concern at the time.
“I knew that if I had left that person to do anything else, he might have passed away,” said Matthews. “What that lady did to me was the least of my concerns at the moment.”
We have to remember, however, that there were about a dozen officers running towards the sound of gunshots that night and they are absolute heroes
Covered in blood, Matthews accompanied the critically injured victim to the hospital where he survived.
A Service member for the last 25 years, Matthews – who has been with Intelligence Services the last 18 months – said it was an extreme honour to be selected for the prestigious award.
“We have to remember, however, that there were about a dozen officers running towards the sound of gunshots that night and they are absolute heroes,” he said. “I guess I share this honour with them.”
Superintendent Myron Demkiw, Intelligence Services unit commander, and other senior officers were on hand to congratulate Matthews at the 50th annual awards ceremony organised by the Toronto Region Board of Trade.
“I am incredibly proud of Joe,” said Demkiw. “He showed tremendous professionalism, courage and calmness under difficult circumstances, while trying to save a life in a very hostile crowd environment. I have known him for many years and I am not surprised by what he did. Joe is a hard worker and very dedicated police officer.”
Each month, an officer or a group of officers is selected for Police Officer(s) of the Month, based on bravery, humanitarianism, superior investigative work and outstanding police skills. A total of 23 officers were honoured for their part in making Toronto one of the safest cities in the world.
The Police Officer of the Year is selected by seasoned journalists. Community and business members were added this year.
CTV News general assignment reporter Andria Case is on the selection panel.
“We get all the submissions for each month and we go through them,” she said. “After we saw this submission, we learned more about the situation. We didn’t know that the officer was punched in the face. This situation could have gotten out of hand so quickly, had it not been for his quick thinking. Instead of arresting that woman for assault, he stuck to the matter at hand.”
Chief Mark Saunders, who migrated from England with his family the same year the awards program was launched to mark Canada’s centennial in 1967, said the nominees are champions.
“We need to celebrate and publicize the great work that we do because, if we don’t, no one else will,” he said. “When we look at tonight’s honourees, they did amazing things. They were brave, courageous and they showed compassion. I want to thank you so much because you have made Toronto Police and Toronto proud of the work you have done.”
Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack also had high praise for the nominees.
“Each and every day you have gone above and beyond,” he said. “That’s why we’re here tonight. Everybody who is a nominee tonight for the Police Officer of the Year Award is a hero. You make us proud as members of the Association, you make us proud as members of the Service and you make us proud as citizens of Toronto.”
When we look at tonight’s honourees, they did amazing things. They were brave, courageous and they showed compassion
Chris Worth has been the volunteer committee chair for the past six years.
“I have clients dotted throughout this great city who are making their homes and building their lives,” the real estate agent said. “As I travel the streets, daily, and show people the neighbourhoods and areas that they can come home to, I see members of the Toronto Police Service going about their jobs. It encourages me to know that they are working hard for us every single day. This is the day when I get to reflect on how happy I am to live in this amazing city, raising my family and going about my business knowing that we are all safe and under the protection of all of the members of the Toronto Police Service.”
Toronto Region Board of Trade President & CEO Jan De Silva said the Officer of the Year Awards ceremony is the organization’s signature event.
“It’s our proudest tradition,” she said. “It is unlike any other event we host at the Board and it is something that has become personal to me since I joined as president in 2015. It is not often that we get to celebrate those truly human moments that occur throughout our city. It is a chance to honour selfless acts of bravery, keen observation, quick thinking and humanitarism as demonstrated daily by our officers in their interactions with everyone in this city, no matter how challenging the situation is at the time.
“Our Board’s vision is to make Toronto one of the most competitive and sought-after business regions in the world… More than 120,000 people a year move into our city and call it home, but this fast growth and dynamism in our city is really only possible because of the work of the Toronto Police Service. The sense of safety and liveability for which we have developed a global reputation is fostered and made possible by all of you.”
Photos Jennifer Ford, Forensic Identification Services