With the relationship between Toronto Police and LGBTQ2S community members at a low point, Const. Rob Chevalier accepted the challenge to work in the neighbourhhod Church St. Village neighbourhood to help mend fences.
“I was excited to get involved and get to know the people who live in the area,” said the Neighbourhood Community Officer who has been working in the community since November 2017. “When me and my partner Const. Amber Smith first went in there, we didn’t feel comfortable as the residents just didn’t want to see police in the two main community centres there.”
The connection between the police and the community has drastically improved in the last two years.
“When we walk in now, residents greet us with, ‘Hey Rob and Amber and how is everything going?’” said Chevalier, who joined the Service 12 years ago. “They now have our cell phone numbers and they text us and call us in to The 519 (formerly The 519 Church St. Community Centre) to have meetings if they want to report a crime and they don’t want to go to a police station. We go in, take the report right there and follow up. Things have come a long way.”
The NCOs are there to create community connections to prevent crime and create long-term solutions to solving crime and disorder issues.
Christopher Hudspeth, of the Church-Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area, said the officers’ presence in the community has been very uplifting.
“Although it’s perceived there is a problem between the police and the LBGTQ community, it’s actually a very small segment of that community that has an issue with the police,” he said. “That being said, the Neighbourhood Community Officer program that has been deployed to the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood most certainly has helped to change that perception amongst the masses. That small group of voices that may have been loud, saying the police are a problem within our community are now being drowned out by those voices saying we are so happy to have neighbourhood officers here that are part of our community and have a connection to our community.”
Hudspeth said the officers are very visible and engaged.
“They are on the street walking as opposed to driving by in vehicles or even on bikes,” he added. “They are also people that have a vested interest in that community. They have connections that they are building on.”
The successful Neighbourhood Community Officer Program (NCOP) is set to be enhanced to better serve residents in the city.
“Torontonians want a familiar and trusted police service focused on community safety and reducing crime through collaboration, partnerships, engagement and empathy,” said Chief Mark Saunders at a news conference at police headquarters on September 12. “This is the goal of the Neighbourhood Officer Program. Practically speaking, neighbourhood officers deliver on this in a few ways. They communicate and they get to know the community in person, with individuals and as well as groups. This could mean meeting community members over coffee, attending local schools, getting to know local business owners and attending community events. The community is able to recognize our officers because they are visible and present in their neighbourhoods and, most important, they are accessible.”
Currently, there are 44 Neighbourhood Community Officers, including four Sergeants operating with enhancements in 41, 42, 11 and 22 Divisions. These enhancements will now be adopted by the remaining 83 Neighbourhood Community officers, bringing the total complement to 127, servicing 35 neighbourhoods across the city.
The enhancements include a standardized mandate focussing on building partnerships in the community and working towards long-term solutions for public safety and disorder issues, community-centric training specific to their role, assignments to each neighbourhood for at least four years, identifiable branding with distinctive markings on the vehicles they are using and accessing their work environment through a mobile vehicle allowing officers to spend more time in their assigned neighbourhoods.
“Our officers are there 24/7 to connect with the community,” said Deputy Chief Peter Yuen. “This program started in 2013 and, as a Service, we asked ourselves if we are doing this right. It’s not just enough for us to come up with that answer, so we went outside to partner with Humber College.”
Asked four years ago to evaluate the NCOP, Humber presented the results in 2018, showing very strong community support for the program.
“The Service implemented most of the recommendations and we are currently conducting reviews in select Toronto communities to find out the communities attitudes and opinions of the Enhanced Neighbourhood Officer program,” said Doug Thomson of Humber College. “We are also conducting surveys of the officers themselves to find out their opinions of the changes and looking at crime data to find out if there have been any changes in reported crime.”
He said the surveys will be completed in early November 2019 with a completed report to be published next year.
To date, results collected from Toronto communities show there’s strong support to be able to identify neighbourhood officers, residents feel safer and community members see the neighbourhood officers as important.
“The results from surveys and focus groups of the Enhanced Neighbourhood Officers are also very promising,” added Thomson. “The officers strongly support the new program, they like the new branding, cell phones and they feel that they are being successful in their work in their communities. “…It is uncommon for academic research recommendations to be taken up so quickly by a government agency and then to be invited back to conduct further research of their effects.”