New Officer FOCUSed on Most Vulnerable

By Ron Fanfair, Toronto Police Service Published: 7 a.m. August 20, 2020

Through her involvement with the FOCUS Toronto Situation Table, Mariya Zasheva chose to become a Toronto Police officer.

A woman in TPS uniform
Recruit Mariya Zasheva brings her experience as a Probation and Parole Officer and member of a FOCUS Table to policing

The former Probation and Parole Officer in the current class of recruits training to serve and protect city residents.

Furthering Our Community by Uniting Services (FOCUS) is an innovative approach led by Toronto Police, the City of Toronto and United Way Toronto & York Region, that aims to reduce crime and victimization and improve community resiliency and well-being.

The model brings together the most appropriate community agencies at a weekly situation-table model to provide a targeted, wrap-around approach to the most vulnerable individuals, families and places that are experiencing heightened levels of risk in a specific geographic location.

The weekly meetings bring police, health and housing social workers, as well as legal experts and school board representatives, to review cases put before them to assess how they can help. The tables serve 11, 14, 23, 31, 42, 51 and 52 Divisions.

Zasheva volunteered to serve on a FOCUS Toronto Situation Table as a Probation and Parole Officer and was inspired by the experience. 

“To have so many people from so many services in one space trying to help society’s most vulnerable people was amazing,” she said.

Zasheva worked in the Riverdale Probation and Parole Office for five years prior to joining the Service.

“I was very happy and satisfied with my job,” she said. “But the more I was attending the FOCUS table, the more I was seeing what police actually do behind the scenes. This was an eye-opener for me. I got to see how much police officers are involved in their communities and how much extra work they do. 

“At Probation, we work closely with the police, but our roles overlap in terms of arrests and warrants and this is not the pleasant part of the job. Once I got to the FOCUS table, I saw how much more there is that police do and many people aren’t aware of this. I was so motivated by what I saw that I wanted to become part of that organization working so hard to effect change in Toronto.”

Her Probation & Parole office works closely with 51 Division.

“We rely on them for assistance in terms of facilitating an arrest or exchanging information,” she said. “I was our office’s United Way proud representative for five years and I decided to invite 51 Division Neighbhourhood Community Officers to a fundraiser I had organized. They showed up and it surprised me because I thought they might have been too busy to come. They even purchased some European crepes, which was very kind of them. But the main thing that came out of that day was the connection they made with our office and a mutually beneficial relationship was established.”

Sgt. Brian Smith, who is the FOCUS situation table coordinator, said Zasheva is poised to hit the ground running with Canada’s largest municipal police service.

“As a probation and parole officer in the Riverdale office in 51 Division, she had a great working relationship with the officers in that Division,” she said. “Working at the FOCUS table expanded her interaction with not just 51 and the normal agencies she would interact with, but the other 40 agencies sitting at the table working together on interventions and supporting the most vulnerable and high-risk people in our community. Now becoming a police officer is a huge win for us and she will be an asset to the Service right off the bat.”

Born and raised in Bulgaria, Zasheva and her husband arrived in Canada in 2005.

“We came to Canada because my husband got an amazing job offer,” said the mother of two children.

She completed Criminology and French studies at the University of Toronto.

“I have enjoyed every minute of my time in Canada because I left Bulgaria with nothing,” said Zasheva. “I didn’t speak a word of English and it took me a long time to be able to speak the language well and meet the criteria for attending college and university. I worked during the day and went to school at night. It took me many, many years to get where I am and that’s why I feel so proud and honoured to wear this uniform. I put in the work and made this happen.”

Zasheva hopes she will be assigned to 51 Division after graduation.

“I have worked in that area for several years, I am very familiar with the resources and I know the people and the challenges of this particular downtown core population,” she said. “Most of my work has revolved around populations that are underserved. I will do well in any situation because I have the desire and passion to serve all people, but I just love working with those that are marginalized and in need.”

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