Apr 14, 2023
To promote community safety and well-being, we need to expand our definition beyond crime and policing. This includes redefining trauma and developing preventive approaches to enhance our ability to act early.
We also need innovative mechanisms to integrate multi-sector data for informed decision-making and investment. Implementing a multi-sector governance structure and committing to a long-term vision of community safety and well-being is crucial. Coordinated leadership and action with critical partners will help us achieve a comprehensive plan to realize this vision.
Relying too much on police officers has resulted in a rise in police brutality, racial profiling, and the unjust criminalization of those living in poverty or struggling with mental illness. To better support victims, Toronto's police services should prioritize community and problem-oriented policing and invest in specialized units for extreme, professional, and organized criminals and criminal organizations that involve activities such as random violence, money laundering, fraud, human trafficking, and robberies.
It is important for elected officials to recognize the limitations of policing and to invest in social work and healthcare solutions through living wage increase, fairer scheduling and re-setting of the division of labour to effectively respond to poverty, mental illness and social isolation.
Public Health and Safety Commission
One way for community members to contribute to safer neighborhoods is by providing support to caregivers who have people with disabilities, participating in restorative justice programs, and receiving appropriate training to help neighbours-in-crisis.
When emergency and crisis workers share the duty of keeping the public safe with the police, it can have many benefits. To modernize the coordination and delivery of public safety services, consolidating the following divisions and departments to create a pool of shared revenues that will deliver the SafeTO: A Community Safety & Well-Being Plan with the goal of reducing burnout and turnover rates while improving crisis response within the community. Currently these resources are in place:
City of Toronto: Community Crisis Response Program (CCRP) and Toronto Community Crisis Service
Toronto Police Service: Neighbourhood Community Officers and Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT)
A safer Toronto in 9 months
Toronto has various options to utilize its para-medicine infrastructure better, such as reducing overtime for non-emergency calls, improving oversight on information-sharing and safety technology, offering industry-leading professional development and well-being training, providing fair work schedules, improving communication during crises, and strengthening connections between public health and safety programs. Toronto could implement the following actions will be taken over a 9 month-period:
Mobile Crisis Professionals
Increase the presence of mobile crisis professionals at TTC stations to respond to medical emergencies and provide immediate care to individuals experiencing mental health crises or substance abuse issues. Additionally, the city could work with Toronto Public Health to develop outreach programs to connect vulnerable individuals with healthcare services and resources.
Transform TTC toll booths into full-service help stations staffed with paramedics, social workers and mental health specialists who can provide support to individuals in need. These help stations could also serve as hubs for community outreach programs, offering health and wellness resources and referrals to local social services.
Rapid Housing Solutions
Develop rapid housing solutions for the Shelters 2 Homes programs to support individuals experiencing homelessness, mental health issues, or addiction transition into stabilized forms of housing. This will include accelerating supported housing projects and improving existing shelters to accommodate persons waiting for housing projects to be completed, and increased funding to retain social workers and mental health specialists so that they are available to provide support and counseling services.
Fair wages and training support
Improve wage and working conditions for social workers and mental health specialists by increasing salaries and benefits, providing additional training and professional development opportunities, and offering incentives for staff to work in high-need areas. These policies could help to attract and retain qualified professionals, ensuring that individuals in need receive high-quality care and support.
Toronto could borrow models from the following:
Eugene, Oregon implemented the Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets (CAHOOTS) program, which dispatches teams of EMS workers and crisis counselors to respond to non-violent situations such as mental health crises, substance abuse issues, and homelessness. The program has been very successful in reducing the need for police involvement in these types of situations.
Denver, Colorado launched a pilot program called Support Team Assistance Response (STAR), which dispatches teams of EMS workers and social workers to respond to non-violent calls related to mental health, substance abuse, and homelessness. The program has been successful in reducing police involvement in these types of calls and providing individuals with more appropriate support.
The Netherlands have a unique approach to emergency services that involves sending out "general practitioners on wheels" to respond to non-emergency medical calls. These medical professionals are trained to handle a variety of non-life-threatening situations and can provide care and support to individuals without the need for police involvement.
Drug use and violence can occur regardless of someone's housing situation, therefore, we must improve our response to our own and others' struggles by promptly identifying the appropriate responder for de-escalation as the situation intensifies. This will help prevent someone from being deprived of the assistance and support they require and reduce the risk of preventable violence.