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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Policing the Danforth: Looking back to move forward

Theodore Roosevelt lived by the maxim “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” – a revolutionary idea in mid-century American politics. Fast forward to the Danforth in 2015 and take note of the ground swell of community pride visible at coffee shops, restaurants, farmers markets and anywhere along the lengthy sidewalk. This is in some parts due to the work of the Danforth East Community Association (DECA) that has in some ways adopted Teddy’s philosophy: they’ve done what they could, with what we have here on the east end of Danforth. To make it a safer place, to make it a better community. 

And it truly felt that way until recently. 

Last week, our favourite pizza place Gerrard Pizza & Spaghetti won the new DECA Gems contest.  During the festive celebration at Ethiopian restaurant Hirut, Gerrard Pizza owner Vito Greco held his crystal “Stanley Cup” trophy up high with a grin on his face looking forward to the future of his business and his neighbourhood. 

Photo Credit: Austin Delaney / CTV Toronto
Yesterday, it was a new reality. Vito was sweeping up shards of glass from his front patio. A bullet ripped through his front window and a man was dead after being shot and killed only two doors down from Gerrard at a late night middle-eastern dive called Rotana. The second time in two years that police tape has cordoned off his stretch of Danforth because of a violent crime. Vito is fed up and so is the neighbourhood. 

Ironically, during the celebration at Hirut last week, Pioneer and Vito got onto the topic of neighbourhood history. This isn’t the first time that there has been tension in the neighbourhood (and it won’t be the last). During the 1940s and 1950s, there was so much post-war tension amongst multicultural groups along the Danforth that violence would break out frequently and with terrible results. Vito’s elderly father, who has been running Gerrard since 1959, says that groups of young Italian men were not allowed to “congregate” and would be asked to ‘move along’ by uniforms. 

Pioneer put in a call to 54 and 55 Division to ask them about their response to Monday night’s violence, and quite simply, will they be asking people to ‘move along’ from the Coxwell parkette, from out front of the many, many dive bars, from the alleyways and parking lots? 

Staff Sergeant Mullin from 54 Division and Constable Morrice at 55 gave us a resounding yes to this question. Although both units have been making an effort over the past few months to do evening inspections of liquor licenses and scanning for associated issues, they are changing their strategy quickly to adapt to the overwhelming need for police presence. 
  1. They will be partnering with Municipal Licensing & Standards (MLS) to put businesses in this area under the microscope, and making sure business owners are taking accountability for the kind of clientele they host.  It has worked in the past and they’re hoping it will work again. 
  2. They’ll be reallocating their resources and moving more officers to cover the wee hours of the morning. Taking a closer look at how they are policing the Danforth. 
  3. They’ll be beefing up police presence. This is a common policing strategy that works to deter crime by having visible uniforms. This will also keep people ‘moving along’, by leaning on bylaws like prohibiting consuming alcohol in parks and public spaces. 
  4. They’ll partner with TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Strategy team) on community initiatives. 
Overall, both Sergeant Mullin and Constable Morrice confirmed that our crime rate in the neighbourhood is actually going down. Although it may seem as if it’s increasing, the number of high-profile violent crimes is bringing some bad PR and outweighing the gentrification and general reduction of the seedy element. 

As a community, a lot of people are asking what we can do to combat these incidents. There is no simple answer. Wrapping yourself in Teflon bubble wrap is not the solution. Reporting crimes, calling in suspicious activity and keeping your eyes open is one answer. Get involved with the BIA or with DECA on projects that will help promote a safe neighbourhood – there are lots of volunteer opportunities for community activism.  Get to know your local businesses and shop at them. Be smart. Don’t feel bad about calling TPS about things that make you uncomfortable.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. “


  1. Greenwood Community Association too.

  2. That 4 step plan from the police is the same we've been hearing from them for the last 5 years. The community has met with them and MLS and discussed this many times already. Same old song and dance.

    A BIG problem is that Danforth is the dividing line for 54 and 55 Divisions, so while there have been at least a dozen violent crimes (stabbings, shootings, murder) on or in the vicinity of the Danforth between Greenwood and Coxwell in the last few years, they have happened on either side of Danforth thus making the crime rates look less serious as they are divided between the two Divisions.

  3. Hope you're going to comment on the fact that 'gentrification' as you promote will further push out low-income residents. Is this the Toronto you want to live in? Not that many poor people have an opportunity to respond to your assertions here. Toronto includes all people, not just those clamouring for the next Starbucks.

  4. This is from The Sun:

    "Sgt. Al Hall, of 54 Division, said police do not receive many complaints for that stretch of the Danforth and “it’s not on our radar in terms of a problem area.”"

    5 unlawful deaths in something like 12 months! What type of radar do they have?

  5. Toronto Police have already announced that TAVIS units would not be available for even "high priority" neighbourhoods (Danforth not among those) for most of this summer due to Pan Am policing commitments. This might be as well, since TAVIS units famously behave heavy handedly and have not been shown to reduce crime anywhere. TAVIS units are not "local" police, have no investment in the community, and tend to do a lot of vehicle stops and carding, without sharing any intel with local units.
    It is also worth knowing police do regular checks of bars, and won't be doing more of them in the immediate future. The unit that does them, Major Crime, or the plainclothes local police, are also the unit that investigates B & E's, minor drug trafficking complaints and persistent complaints about rowdy behaviour etc. The unit is not getting more personnel, so attention to one area eliminates attention to other areas. When ever a community expresses concern, Police regularly say they will have more "presence" in the area. Generally, other than Thursdays when police shifts are doubled up and routine training is scheduled, with other extra police assigned to trouble spots, additional police presence is pretty much an announcement only kind of thing. Murders, and attempted murders are not the sort s of crimes that can be stopped by police presence anyway. They are relationship specific, or entirely random encounters, neither of which can be anticipated by police.