Community members who saw the challenge of policing up close are keen to bring back their newfound knowledge to their communities.
The seventh cohort to pass through the nine-week Toronto Police Service (TPS) Community Police Academy graduated on November 30 at the Toronto Police College. There was a total of 180 applicants for the fall program.
Vineca Gray and Nate Wilson-Taylor were the class valedictorians.
Gray is a member of 51 Division Community Police Liaison Committee.
“I see the incredible challenges that Toronto Police face and I feel like I can contribute to the continued vision that our Chief has of focusing on sustainable community,” she said.
The long-time Regent Park/Cabbagetown resident who grew up in Parkdale was very impressed with the presentations.
“Ron Chhinzer’s presentation on guns and gangs and his dedicated work is very notable,” said Gray, who is a senior executive assistant in the non-profit sector. “I am also developing as a professional fundraiser and that’s where I see again my ability to fit. Understanding the culture of the Service and the relationship with agencies really enhance my ability to speak very directly to how I can support, for example, developing funding protocols for agencies.”
As a young girl, Gray considered policing as a career option.
“As a teenager, I remember attending a wedding and sitting at a table with this lady who was a police officer,” she recalled. “I had other strengths academically at the time. Had I known what I know today, there would have been no hesitation to join the Service.”
Wilson-Taylor’s respect for the police has grown exponentially in the last nine months.
“It’s so easy for people to go on social media and look at a 10 to 15-minute clip of the police doing something that may deem not right,” he said. “It’s so easy for the police to be convicted in the court of public opinion without having all the facts at our disposal. Seeing the type of training they go through, particularly when it comes to de-escalation, was really an eye-opener for me.”
The federal government employee, who was raised by a single mother in Scarborough, has applied to be a uniformed officer with the TPS.
The program offers an up-close look at what challenges police officers face on a daily basis in order to create understanding of policing in the community.
Participants learned about Canada’s largest municipal police service and the criminal justice system, engaged in use-of-force and scenario-based training and toured the Mounted and Marine Units and Police Dog Services.
“The high level of training that officers receive is the thing that I am most impressed with,” said Khalid Solomon, who is in the Information Technology sector. “I was able to see the restraint they exercise and learn that they are not programmed to shoot and kill.”
Allegations of police misconduct in New York in the 1960s weighed heavily on Robert Bertrand’s mind as he considered a career in policing. That decade was a tumultuous period in the history of the New York Police Department punctuated by riots and accusations of police brutality.
“Even as a white boy growing up in Michigan, I thought that wasn’t how the police should be dealing with people,” said the American who moved to Canada in 1969. “I wanted to be a police officer, but the accusations levelled against the police left a bad taste in my mouth.”
Bertrand, who spent two years with the United States Military Police and worked in security in Toronto for 16 years.
He enrolled in the program to get a better idea of how TPS does business.
“I was pleasantly surprised about what I saw and learned,” said Bertrand who, at age 67, was the oldest participant in the graduating class of 36. “They are very professional and thorough. My biggest takeaway was the scenario-based training. I love it and I wish we could do that alone for another nine weeks.”
Graduates are empowered to have an impact on community safety in their own neighbourhoods and act as ambassadors for the Service.
Solomon plans to share his experience with his family, friends and co-workers.
“I am now a big advocate for Toronto Police,” he added.
The TPS ran a similar program – the Civilian Police College – that was discontinued a decade ago. Since the program was re-launched in 2016, a total of 210 community citizens have graduated.
To learn more or apply for the next class, visit the Community Police Academy webpage.