Residents in at least two neighbourhoods are speaking out against a move by Toronto police to re-allocate community policing officers in all but three divisions across the city.
The Toronto Police Service (TPS) confirmed to CBC News that as of June 6, it has redeployed Community Response Unit (CRU) officers, with the exception of those in 14, 51 and 52 Divisions. Police say the shift was necessary to support the expansion of a different unit — the Neighbourhood Officer program — in various parts of the city.
"There was a phenomenal integration and that's a great community thing to have," said Didi Cameron, who lives in a neighbourhood in the Eglinton Avenue East and Mount Pleasant Road area.
"Now it's gone."
Residents say while they understand the need for dedicated officers in other communities, they're worried they're losing a key tool in crime prevention in their neighbourhoods. While some experts support the expansion of the Neighbourhood Officer Program, they question why the move has happened without releasing many details publicly about the decision.
Part of a community
CRU officers are responsible for everything from responding to crimes in a certain area and patrols, to working on issues such as prevention. They also respond to events like demonstrations and festivals in a specific community.
Cameron started a neighbourhood watch group about eight years ago, and says CRU officers patrolling her neighbourhood in 53 Division have played a pivotal role.
"We are making communities be aware, be safe, teaching them how to communicate. And it's all from these community response units … giving us the information to share," said Cameron.
"They are the ones who talk to us, who teach us what's happening in our neighbourhood, how to protect ourselves. They will come out to speak to different groups, organizations quite often."
Cameron says a big part of having CRU officers around is the relationships they've built with residents and businesses.
"I understand that certain neighbourhoods, certain divisions may need more policing for their issues … but it cannot be at the expense of other neighbourhoods and communities."
Over in the city's east end, some residents have a similar sentiment about losing their CRU officers.
"It enhances the safety of the entire community. And that's why I'm upset about taking them away," said Cindy Cass, the neighbourhood watch representative for the part of The Beach known in the area as Pleasantville — located south of Queen Street East and just west of Woodbine Avenue.
"They focus really on building the trust with the people and also having good relationships with the people within your community and that helps to reduce crime."
Neighbourhood Officer Program expanding
TPS told CBC News it's redeploying CRU officers to expand the Neighbourhood Officer Program.from 38 neighbourhoods to 51.
Similar to the CRU, neighbourhood officers are community-based but are posted for at least four years to get to know the community better. They are chosen more deliberately for specific skills set and are only in target communities. The program was introduced a decade ago but expanded in 2019.
"The service recognizes that these are noticeable changes for TPS and our communities," police said in a statement.
TPS went on to say: "We make our operational decisions to best police the city with the resources we have."
Remaining CRU officers not deployed as neighbourhood officers will be sent to the Priority Response Unit (PRU), which responds to emergency calls.
The former chair of the Toronto Police Services Board, Alok Mukherjee, says he welcomes the expansion of the Neighbourhood Officer program, noting that even with the expansion the majority of neighbourhoods still don't have dedicated neighbourhood officers.
But he questions why many details of the expansion haven't been released, saying one of the goals of the program was to tackle the roots of gun violence.
"We needed from the police service some examination and some evaluation and some analysis to show us exactly how the Neighbourhood Officer program has been effective in delivering on this objective of being a preventive, proactive initiative," said Mukherjee,
"There's a whole lot of information that has not been provided to the community. But in the meantime, as we know, they're moving forward with the expansion without first being transparent and telling people."
Mukherjee also questions what the departure of CRU officers means for neighbourhoods that currently don't have neighbourhood officers.
"The areas that lose their community response officers, I think there are questions. How will that be felt? What will happen to the knowledge networks, the connections, the linkages that this community had built?"
TPS told CBC News it's "committed" to ensuring that public safety is maintained throughout the redeployment.