New Yorker says Toronto’s safe streets not result of police presence

Kaitlin Heller thinks Toronto streets are very safe, but not necessarily the result of an increased police presence.

“I used to live in Harlem, New York, and there were shootings on my doorstep,” Kaitlin Heller said while sitting on a bench at Yonge-Dundas Square. “Toronto feels much safer.”

Although the 29-year-old transplanted New Yorker has only lived in the city for the past two years, she said she’s enjoyed living here.

“I’ve never really felt like I was in danger in Toronto,” Heller said.

After the shootings at the Eaton Centre food court on June 2 and at the Scarborough block party on July 16, she said her perception of the city did not change.

In late July this year, Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair announced the launch of the Summer Safety Initiative (SSI), which resulted in the equivalent of 329 additional full-time officers monitoring the city between July 26 and Sept. 9.

On Sept. 14, he announced the results of the SSI at Toronto Police headquarters on College Street. The Toronto police chief said the streets of the city were safer this summer because his officers worked compulsory overtime hours.

“There was a reduction of all crime in all areas of the city,” Blair said. “We asked our people to step up this summer and they’ve answered the call.”

The chief said SSI was implemented in response to heightened levels of violence across the city, notably the shooting at Eaton Centre and Danzig Street shootings.

“This wasn’t about how many people we arrested, but how we made the streets safer and I think by all accounts we’ve succeeded,” he said. “We have worked very hard to restore a sense of safety.”

In comparison to the same period of time in 2005, the total number of homicides decreased by 78.9 per cent in 2012. Specifically, shooting homicides went down by 86.7 per cent.

“It does look like it was very impressive,” ward 37 Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam said after looking at the results of the SSI. “But I’d be interested in knowing how it would be sustained in the long run.”

Wong-Tam said that although the work the officers did was commendable, there might be a more efficient solution.

“It was for a short time and the cost was $2 million,” she said. “We would need to work more innovatively to keep it going in the future.”

Despite the Toronto Police Service’s implementation of the Summer Safety Initiative (SSI), Heller said she did not notice a difference in the streets.

“I think it’s hard to predict when this type of violence is going to happen anywhere and Toronto is a big city,” Heller said.