On the beat

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WHERE ARE THE COPS? / Not shaking hands on Church St

James Dubro / Toronto Xtra / Thursday, March 31, 2005

The police division now responsible for Toronto's gay village is understaffed and doing a poor job of community policing, critics say.

In a boundary shuffle last June, Toronto Police Service's 51 Division took over the responsibility for the village from 52 Division. While 51's coverage area grew substantially - its responsibility now runs from Yonge St to the Don Valley, from Bloor St to the Lake Ontario - it only got 60 new officer positions.

Ian Gemmell, member of the 51 Division Community Police Liaison Committee and president of the McGill-Granby Residents' Association, says 51 Division is short-staffed and cannot now do adequate community policing. He says there should be more foot patrols in the neighbourhood and fewer cops in cars.

"There is a vast problem with drugs and prostitution... and drinking in parks... and a drug problem in the gay area. We need more officers in the area on foot, on bicycles and on horses," says Gemmell.

Fifty-one Division Superintendent Randal Munroe says the boundary shift and transfer of officers has been "neutral." But Munroe admits there are fewer cops in the street in the gay village because of other factors including some retirements, growth in the population of the area and budget cuts. Some people also blame the policing strategy of former police chief Julian Fantino.

"In the last four years under Fantino, community policing has been undermined in downtown Toronto," says Kyle Rae, the city councillor whose ward contains the gay village.

Rae says Fantino and his deputy, Steve Reesor, adopted the New York model of community policing, also known as the 60/40 model, which "allocates resources in an area based on the number of calls that are made to the police." When calls are not made, the resources are not deployed. Rae says queers in the Church-Wellesley area are more tolerant of noise and other problems and call 911 much less, so the village is underrepresented under this model.

Jackie O'Keefe, the police liaison officer to the queer community, lives in the village. She says that while there are fewer cops on foot patrols, she has noticed more patrol cars in the area since 51 took over. While cars are less people-friendly - there is less face-to-face casual contact with officers - O'Keefe says police cars allow officers to be in radio contact with headquarters and thus to answer emergency and 911 calls more quickly.

Rae disagrees.

"Cops have to get out of their cars and onto their feet to serve our needs downtown," he says.

Munroe has plans to deploy three bicycle squads of six officers and a sergeant in the downtown area including the village in the spring and summer.

Rae and others predict that the likely replacements for Fantino - acting chief Mike Boyd and acting deputy chief Bill Blair are said to be top candidates - will focus more on community policing and will put more cops on the beat.

Munroe agrees with Rae that either Boyd or Blair, both who have come up through the ranks and are "user-friendly cops" with better public relations skills than Fantino, will emphasize community policing.

Police chiefs are a product of the political climate and their times, says Munroe. When hard, abrasive people like former premier Mike Harris and former mayor Mel Lastman - as well as Craig Bromell, the former head of the Toronto Police Association - are in power, politics and policing had more authoritarian, confrontational style.

"Now with [Mayor David] Miller, [Premier Dalton] McGuinty, and [Police Association head Dave] Wilson, we have a climate for a more consensual style," says Munroe.

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