Police officers at 32 Division might have a new unit commander, but he is far from a rookie on the force.
Superintendent Selwyn “Sam” Fernandes is a 40-year veteran of Toronto Police, and says that experience is what keeps him ready for new challenges in his new division.
“I’ve got 40 years on the job so even though it’s a challenge, it’s a challenge I look forward to,” he said partway through his second week in the division, bound by Steeles Avenue to the north, the CN Rail line to the west, Lawrence Avenue to the south and Bayview Avenue to the east.
“I’ve had a lot of dealings with Koreans and Asians in the past, but not specifically the Jewish community or Russian community,” he continued. “So that will be different for me, but I know a lot of high profile people in that community and they’re happy to see me here.”
Those communities are already getting to know him. In his first couple weeks, Fernandes had attended two different community events.
Though one reason for his attendance is to get familiarized with the people in the neighbourhoods, another is it’s just something he likes to do.
“What has surprised people here already is that I also go to the communities on weekends, evenings and participate in all different events,” says the former unit commander at 55 Division. “That’s my strength. People get to know me on a first-name basis instead of just the boss in the white shirt.”
It’s also that attitude of being involved in the community, instead of just policing it that has garnered Toronto Police an international reputation, Fernandes says.
On many occasions police officers from Europe have come to Toronto to learn about community engagement, he says. Recently, an officer from Croatia even shadowed Fernandes for three months.
“His main purpose was to study diversity in the city and why the police gets along so well with all the diverse communities,” he said, adding the officer was shown various religious ceremonies, demonstrations and the training for community response officers. “(Some European countries) have implemented a lot of the practices that we teach in our police colleges.”
This hands-on learning, he says, shows Toronto Police have the right attitude in policing communities, especially one like 32 Division, which has a high number of newcomers.
“A lot of these communities are new,” he said, identifying immigrants from Iran and Israel. “They are new in this country and their attitude toward police is totally different from the Canadian policing style, so we need to break this barrier and show them that we too are part of the community.”
Fernandes added how many community members are happy to see Toronto Police don’t create a “you the community and we the police” divide in society.
“They feel it’s the same here until they meet us and they say ‘wow, you guys are great’.”
As for the division itself, Fernandes says crime in general is down all across the board. The division used to be a hotbed for auto theft and while it still is a problem, it’s nowhere near where it used to be. The same goes for break and enters.
“There used to be a time you’d get three, four, five a day, now you don’t,” he said referring to break and enter rates of just three or four years ago. “We get five or six break and enters a week and we get a little bit agitated. So that’s a good sign, but it’s a hard offence to stop.”
As well, Fernandes highlighted two specific neighbourhoods — Lawrence Heights and Neptune — as places that have seen a turnaround in recent months.
He pointed to last November’s murder of 16-year-old Tyrone Bracken as the last major violent crime in the two neighbourhoods. A mid-September shooting that wounded a teen girl broke that streak.
Regardless, Fernandes says it’s work done in tandem by 32 Division officers and community members in those neighbourhoods that has helped curb the crime rate.
“In the past (there was a lot of crime) but it’s relatively okay now,” he said. “It’s not as bad as it used to be because of the great partnership of the community stakeholders, social workers and police.”
For Fernandes, building strong communities is the main goal as head of 32 Division.
“With my attitude to policing and interacting with communities, it’s a win-win for everybody,” he said. “The people that work for me, the communities that I will work with, we’ll all have a good time and make it a nice, safe area.”
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