Assigned five years ago to the Alexandra Park, Kensington Market and Chinatown communities as a neighbourhood officer, Constable Nikolaos Maicantis was in a for a rude awakening at his first community meeting.
“It seemed that everyone there was against the police,” he recalled. “They said the police do nothing but harass young men and they don’t want us there. The great thing was that, a couple of years later, most of the people at that meeting were at a town hall event organized by Councillor Joe Cressy and they stood up and spoke about the glowing work the neighbourhood officers were doing. At that moment, I was floored and I realized how much of a difference we are making.”
Maicantis’ formula for success is simple.
“You treat people the same way you want to be treated,” he said. ‘When you do that, people respect you.”
Maicantis and fellow 14 Division neighbourhood officer Antonio Saffioti were honoured on April 19 with Public Heroes Awards administered by the Intercultural Dialogue Institute (IDI).
“This is a great honour,” said Saffioti. “It signifies the community is happy with the work we are doing to enhance the quality of life in their neighbourhood. I became a police officer because I want to make a difference in the lives of people. That’s exactly what we are doing.”
Sanda Kazazic, the co-ordinator of Drop-in-Services at St. Stephen’s Community House in Kensington Market, nominated Saffioti and Maicantis for the award.
“The program I work for provides services to marginalized individuals, most of them homeless and street-involved with substance-abuse and mental-health challenges and more often than not with frequent interactions with the criminal justice system,” she said. “The reality is that social services and police services often end up on opposite ends when dealing with the community. If anyone had told me that I would be working so closely with police officers to support our community and ensure everyone’s safety, I would have told them they are dreaming. But, after having the privilege to work with Tony and Nik for over a year now, I am of a drastically different opinion.
“They are the perfect example of a powerful impact two individuals who pour their hearts and souls into their work can make on the community they serve…These two officers are doing something extremely powerful and far-reaching and that’s changing the public’s perception of the police. I cannot count the number of times that people I work with have come to me having decided to turn themselves in because they know they have outstanding warrants. They only do so if it’s to Nik or Tony.”
The manner in which the officers have defused extremely dangerous situations also came in for high praise from Kazazic.
“They do so with ease and calmness,” she added. “They are also well known for successfully dealing with escalated individuals who are deemed violent and dangerous and who typically would draw a response of about eight to 10 officers. I know that people often think of heroes in terms of one grand act, but the truth is that the real heroes draw respect and admiration of those around them for showing courage, outstanding conduct and uncompromising virtue every single day. If ever there were two people wearing a uniform who exemplify that, they are officers Nik and Tony. To us in the community, they are more than heroes. They are superheroes even though there is nothing fictional about them.”
The award-winning officers are well ensconced in the community in which they work.
Maicantis helps young people at the Alexandra Park youth drop-in program and assists with the after-school homework program at Alexandra Park Community Centre. He’s also very engaged in the 6ixKids yoga, MJKO youth boxing and the Nutmeg soccer programs.
Saffioti volunteers with seniors in the community and the officers recently collaborated with St. Stephen’s Community House to develop an initiative that addresses the challenges arising out of crystal meth use.
“We work with a lot of young people who have almost no access to shelters, winter respite centres or even drop-ins because of crystal meth use that often leads to behaviours that most programs do not know how to deal with, or that lead to frequent incarcerations for these individuals,” said Kazazic. “Nick and Tony observed the same things in the community as we have in our program, so we have partnered up and are volunteering a lot of our free time trying to get this program off the ground because there is nothing even remotely similar anywhere in the city…These officers were willing to put in their time and energy into trying to make this better for this group.”
Deputy Chief Peter Yuen made the presentations to the officers.
“Any time our officers are being recognized by the community, it’s a good thing for the Toronto Police Service,” he said. “It means that we are making proper connections, building strong relationships and people are beginning to trust us. It’s huge testimony to the good work our officers are doing.”
Yuen is tasked with implementing a new neighbourhood officer program as part of the Service’s modernization process.
“These officers have been in the neighbourhood officer program for a number of years,” he added. “Our program is the best in the province and we want to build on that success. They have set the bar high as we move forward.”
Maicantis joined the Service in 2004 as a court officer and was assigned to Old City Hall courthouse. He became a uniformed officer three years later and was assigned to 14 Division‘s Primary Response Unit.
In 2013, he was re-assigned as a bike officer to the Community Response Unit (CRU).
At age 18, Saffioti walked into the Service’s Employment Unit inquiring about job opportunities.
“They sat me down and told me to go and get some life experiences,” he recounted. “The next day, I bought an airline ticket and travelled the world. I lived in Italy for five years before returning to Toronto.”
Saffioti was successful when he applied a decade later.
“It was worth the wait,” he said. “I love this job and I relish helping people.”
He joined the CRU in 2014.
Superintendent Neil Corrigan, 14 Division unit commander, attended the awards ceremony.
“We have officers who are doing incredible things, but Nik and Tony seem to do that on a consistent basis,” he said. “We are really proud of them and the amazing work they are doing in a challenged community.”
In its eighth year, the Public Heroes Awards recognize cops, firefighters and paramedics for their outstanding work.
The IDI is a non-profit group that seeks to promote social cohesion through interfaith and intercultural cooperation, tolerance and dialogue, by sharing differences and similarities through various forums.