Top cop emphasizes community policing

It was a homecoming of sorts for Deputy Police Chief Peter Sloly, at the Nov. 10 town hall meeting of the Toronto Police Service’s 54 Division and the Community Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) held at Grenoble Public School.

Sloly was the keynote speaker, and focused on his community-minded approach to policing. The Jamaican-born Sloly, who has roots in the Flemingdon Park neighbourhood, emphasised the importance of people taking ownership of their community in partnership with the police.

He drew a parallel between the children he met while visiting Soweto following Nelson Mandela’s ascension to power in South Africa and those he sees growing up in the Flemingdon Park area.

“Children in Soweto didn’t have the things kids have here,” he said. “They did realize, though, their power (to make change) and their potential.”

Sloly spoke about how people in marginalized communities often focus on the liabilities of their surroundings, while failing to recognize the assets in their midst. He referred to this as a reassurance gap.

“This leads to an inverse relationship between enforcement and trust in police and other public institutions,” he said.

Sloly proposed a different approach, involving true community policing — where officers focus more on crime prevention with the help of organizations such as local CPLCs. This approach, he believes, helps win the “hearts and minds” of the community.

One particular example Sloly said motivated the police to change their focus was the 2005 Boxing Day shooting of 15-year-old Jane Creba.

“All of a sudden, as a police service, we woke up,” he said. “We created a program called Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS).”

This new program focuses on those who “devalue” communities by preying on their people. Sloly echoed Chief William Blair’s belief that policing is done in neighbourhoods, in partnership with people.

One of the issues that arose at the meeting was people’s reluctance to speak up after witnessing a crime. This notion of a community’s fear of “snitching” was addressed frankly by Sloly.

“Police is a culture which protects its own, and there is a culture in communities which protects its own,” he said. “We need to get witnesses to come forward, to engage people by giving them a voice at meetings like this.” 

Greg Cantelon, a staff sergeant at 54 division who was present at the meeting, noted the different approach Chief Blair and Deputy Chief Sloly have taken since taking over the police service.

“They’ve taken a different strategy with community policing, breaking down barriers with the public,” he said. “Each chief has left their own mark. There are now more police on the street and on foot patrol.”

Don Valley West Liberal MPP Kathleen Wynne, who was also at the meeting, endorsed Sloly’s commitment to community policing and taking pride in the community around Flemingdon Park — often cited for crime and other social problems.

“The people have a lack of information on the vibrancy of the community,” she said. “They have to change the channel on that reputation.”