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How can we improve Community Safety?

Click Here to watch the Community Safety Townhall Recording:

Click Here to view the slides that were shared (including crime data):

“Please do something.” “Community Town Halls don’t solve the problem.”  “Things are getting worse, not better. What are you doing about it?” “Crime has gotten worse since you were elected. Why aren’t you doing anything about it?”

These are some of the messages sent to me by constituents as the marked increase of break-ins, robberies and car thefts have left people feeling unsettled and unsafe. As a fellow resident, I too am alarmed at the degradation of safety and increased brazenness of criminality. Unfortunately, these challenges are not unique to Willowdale as major crimes have increased across the city. How I wish I had the magic wand that could return us to pre-COVID-19 Willowdale. I confess I am merely mortal and do not have supernatural powers to return us to the days of being a sleepy suburb. However, that does not mean that I am not listening to everyone’s concerns and taking action where I can.

Policing is an important part of the puzzle - but not the entire picture

Police play an important role in community safety and I advocated throughout the budget process that they be supported to maintain the health of their complement strength. The role of the Police Service Board is to ensure the city has adequate and effective policing. We need enough police officers to respond to Level 1 Emergencies faster than the current 22-minute response time. Police play an important role, not only in responding to emergencies, but also in dismantling organised crime, collecting evidence to catch criminals and ensure they are brought to justice. 

People often ask me for more police patrols in our community. Getting the Yonge Street Foot Patrol was a big win for our community. Unfortunately, there is currently not enough budget and therefore staffing capacity for car patrols across the neighbourhoods. Frontline officers spend most of their time responding to emergencies. Unless there was a substantial change to the number of police officers the city is able to pay to hire, there will be no neighbourhood car patrol in the foreseeable future. That being said, I am committed to working with Toronto Police Services to improve policing in our city. I will share more about my goals as a board member in a future newsletter.

The other puzzle pieces

The city has a cross-sectoral roadmap to increasing safety and wellbeing called SafeTO. Identifying risks and opportunities through data is one part of taking a whole system approach to increasing safety. I will keep the community apprised of any developments as they put together the data. 

Many of the perpetrators being caught for car thefts and break-ins are youth. When young people have challenges developing pathways for education and careers, it is easy to be lured into participating in organised crime. I previously worked with young people in an under-resourced community and continue to be upset to see youth lured into drug trafficking and dropping out of school. I strongly believe in the importance of youth workers as an important upstream investment we can make towards community safety and wellbeing. Two organisations that are helping youth are NeighbourLink North York and Youth Assisting Youth. Please consider supporting their work in our neighbourhood either by volunteering or making a donation.

My sister spent a season of her life as a youth worker in Regent Park. Many families living in community housing are single-parent families often working shift work, leaving youth unattended and without support during a critical period in their lives. I once heard a youth worker say, “Good choices are a privilege,” as he described some young people having to choose between hunger and shoplifting.

My sister made a difference in the lives of one generation of girls in her program. They often came to her after school, even when there was no official program because she was their safe space. Imagine what could happen if all university graduates were invited to invest in one generation of youth in vulnerable neighbourhoods across our country!

We need to work together

Mississauga has a community-led organisation that supports community members working together towards increasing safety. While Toronto does not yet have such an organisation, there is much we can do. 

Actions you can take include:

  • Getting to know your neighbours and building or joining a Neighbourhood Watch cluster.

Building strong relationships with your neighbours fosters a sense of community and solidarity. By getting to know those who live nearby, you create a network of support and vigilance. Joining or establishing a Neighbourhood Watch cluster enables neighbours to collaborate in monitoring suspicious activities, sharing information, and collectively deterring crime. Regular communication and collaboration within these clusters enhance neighbourhood safety and cohesion.

  • Sharing crime prevention tips provided by the police.

Law enforcement agencies often provide valuable crime prevention tips and resources to the public. By actively sharing these tips with neighbours, friends, and family members, you empower others to take proactive measures to safeguard their homes and belongings. Whether it's securing doors and windows, installing security cameras, or being vigilant of suspicious behaviour, spreading awareness of effective crime prevention strategies strengthens community resilience against criminal activities.

  • Identifying a neighbourhood cluster representative to participate in the Community Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) at 32 Division to maintain 2-way communications between the community and our police.

Community Police Liaison Committees (CPLC) provide advice and assistance to the local Unit Commander on matters concerning the local communities, including crime and issues regarding quality of life. By identifying a representative from your neighbourhood cluster to participate in the CPLC, you ensure that community concerns and feedback are effectively conveyed to the police. Additionally, active involvement in the CPLC enables residents to stay informed about policing initiatives, provide input on crime prevention strategies, and establish a dialogue with law enforcement officials. This two-way communication fosters mutual understanding and cooperation, ultimately enhancing community-police relations and improving overall safety outcomes.

What can a city councillor do about safety?

  1. Keep constituents informed of what is happening in the community.

  2. Work with Toronto Police Service to improve accountability, work culture, coverage and efficiency of operations.

  3. Work with the local police division to respond to community feedback and data.

  4. Educate and empower community members on crime prevention and the importance of reporting incidents to create data that informs resource allocation.

  5. Advocate for resource allocation.

  6. Work with community members to create Neighbourhood Watch networks to build safety and potentially strengthen social cohesion.

  7. Strengthen investment in young people, in particular those living in under-resourced communities to ensure there are good education and career development opportunities.

  8. Advocate for Federal and Provincial policies that impact safety which can include:

  9. Bail reform 

  10. Advocating for programs that foster rehabilitation among those who have been convicted, especially youth.

  11. Advocating for policies that increase affordability (including housing, rates of support for Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support etc.,)

  12. Advocating for programs and supports for mental health and addiction

  13. Advocating for investments in drug use prevention including how opiates are prescribed

I cannot overemphasise the importance of knowing your neighbours. In a critical moment, the people who can reach you fastest or share information with you are your direct neighbours. I went door to door in my area right before the COVID lockdown kicked in. We created a WhatsApp group and have responded collectively to situations on our street, including incidents involving police. In May we will be holding a webinar with tips around hosting a Neighbourhood Watch cluster. DiDi Cameron started her network when a stabbing occurred on her street near Yonge and Lawrence. Her network now has over 300 members and she has helped to start over 40 networks across the city. She recommends a cluster can be a street of 20-30 houses or an area of up to 300. Those living in high rises can consider a floor or the entire building. Click Here to watch a Global News report about her efforts. We look forward to her workshop in May!



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