Two 11 Division police officers who rescued two men submerged in a flooded elevator were honoured for their selflessness and courage with the Toronto Police Officer of the Year Award on May 7.
Constables Josh McSweeney and Ryan Barnett were completing their afternoon shift on August 7 when the call came in for themen trapped in the basement of a building near Alliance Ave. and Rockliffe Blvd.
A torrential rainfall had left the elevator submerged in water without power and the two men were unable to open the top door to escape.
“We were just finishing a radio call when the call in from 12 Division,” recalled McSweeney who has spent all 13 years on the job at the same division. “We marked ourselves on it as we were just a few blocks away.”
People were exiting the building when the August 2018 Police Officers of the Month arrived on the scene.
“Citizens were trying to open the elevator to get the men out, but were unsuccessful,” recounted McSweeney. “We could see the elevator had its hatch partially open and we were hearing the calls for help.”
The officers made their way down to the lower level and faced a large metal door that was locked and almost submerged. It was at that point that they removed their vests and gun belts.
“The door had no handle and was very difficult to open because of the water pressure,” said McSweeney. “My partner found the key hole and unlocked the door and, with the assistance of a large crowbar. We were able to make our way through mud-filled dirty water swimming towards the elevator door while reassuring the men that we would be there to rescue them.”
He believes the men would have drowned if they had reached them five minutes later.
“Both of us are very good swimmers and I think that helped,” McSweeney said.
Barnett said that was the most unique call he has attended in his 21 years on the job.
“Nothing else comes close,” he said. “I couldn’t have done this without Josh and we are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love we have received. At the same time, I believe that every nominee is deserving of this award because we have officers doing amazing things every day.”
Inspector Chris Boddy of 11 Division praised his officers for going above and beyond the call of duty.
“They did a great job in helping save lives,” he said. “They are representative of our people who do great work on a daily basis. We are so fortunate to have quality people like Ryan and Josh.”
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.
The Police Officer of the Year is selected by seasoned journalists, community and business members. The officers involved in the Yonge St. van attack and Danforth shooting were not among the nominees as the cases are still active.
Chief Mark Saunders said all the nominees are winners.
“It takes special people to do what we do and each and every day, our men and women go out there risking their lives,” he said.
Business and Civilian Excellence Awards were also presented at the 52nd annual ceremony held for the first time at Arcadian Court.
Ian Williams, Debbie Verduga, Shauna Bent, Mark Jones and Daphne Choi were the Civilian Excellence Award winners.
“Our civilians are the best at what they do,” said Saunders.
With the Service being at the forefront of using data and smart technology to improve public safety, the Public Safety Data portal was launched in June 2017 as part of the modernization plan to increase transparency and information available for the public.
The portal has become a centralized platform where the Service’s report crime, mapping, statistics and other information that could be accessed to inform public safety decisions affecting Toronto. It includes open data, maps and dashboards that drive informed discussions among community members, partner agencies and Toronto Police members about public safety.
With thousands of visits monthly, the portal has become a resource for average Torontonians as well as the media who report using the data. It has resulted in positive community engagement, awareness and improved administration and understanding of data within the Service.
“For our organization, the portal really helps the public understand the nature of the work the Toronto Police is engaged in,” said Williams, Analytics & Innovation unit Manager. “From a team perspective, every member has different skill sets that they applied to this portal. Some of that is community engagement, training, education and awareness as well as technological development around working with mapping tools and dashboard tech tools for information management.”
D/Sgt. Jeff Pearson of the Organized Crime Enforcement Unit was the Business Excellence Award recipient.
He led the creation and implementation of two technological innovations that have resulted in incalculable time and cost savings for Ontario police services, courthouses and the judiciary.
Pearson devised the eReport for officers to obtain court orders to hold important evidence.
The savings have been considerable since the project launch seven months ago.
Nearly 900 policing hours have been saved through the 1,500 eReports that were successfully filed at courthouses.
Also, approximately 6,000 pages weighing about 55 pounds didn’t have to be filed at a courthouse, court staff hours were freed up and printing costs have been avoided.
Pearson also devised the eTelewarrant that uses existing technology to send digitally signed documents through encrypted email. Prior to that, officers were using fax machines to apply for search warrants during emergencies and courthouse closures. The province’s police officers use the system nearly 300 times every month.
Ontario’s Community Safety & Correctional Services Minister Sylvia Jones attended the event and acknowledged the nominees and winners.
“Every day, the officers in this room go above and beyond the call of duty to make sure Canada’s largest city is safe and secure,” she said. “This is no easy task. Often, your work is silent, preventative and unseen, but sometimes, it requires you to put yourselves in harm’s way. To you, this is part of a day’s work. To us, it makes you every day heroes.”
The Toronto Region Board of Trade hosts the annual event.
President and Chief Executive Officer Jan DeSilva said the ceremony is unlike any other at the Board which hosts many events.
“This is one of our absolutely proudest traditions in 175 years and it’s the first night in 52 years that we have not been able to host this event at the Board of Trade because we have run out of space,” she proudly said.
Da Silva explained why a business association hosts an award ceremony for police officers.
The Police Officers of the Year Award is a rare occasion where we can recognize the essential goal in helping us realize our mission which is one we share with Toronto Police’s mission, which is to keep this city the best and safest place to be in partnership with our communities
“It’s a question I am always asked,” she pointed out. “As North America’s fourth largest commercial centre, the Board works on behalf of our members to make Toronto one of the most competitive and sought after business regions in the world. The Police Officers of the Year Award is a rare occasion where we can recognize the essential goal in helping us realize our mission which is one we share with Toronto Police’s mission, which is to keep this city the best and safest place to be in partnership with our communities.”
Chris Worth, the Volunteer Committee Chair for the last eight years, said the awards is ‘hands down’ his favourite event of the year.
“Tonight is about us coming together to recognize the dedication to service, the acts of bravery, the good policing and the superior investigative skills of these outstanding individuals” he noted.
Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack also had high praise for the nominees and award winners.
“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.”