Toronto police say its relationship with Church and Wellesley is "strained" after two recent deaths and a string of disappearances in the downtown neighbourhood but insists it is not "broken."
Const. Danielle Bottineau, LGBTQ Liaison Officer for Toronto Police Service, acknowledged that many residents of the city's gay village have lost confidence in the police due its handling the cases of Alloura Wells, 27, and Tess Richey, 22.
Wells was last seen in July and reported missing in early November. Her remains were discovered in a midtown ravine in August, but they were not identified until late last month via DNA testing. Richey vanished and was reported missing on Nov. 25, then found dead four days later.
"I think it's strained for sure. But we're going to continue to move forward and build that bridge with the community. I've always said that we have a lot of work to do," Bottineau told Metro Morning on Tuesday.
"Unfortunately, the recent happenings within the community haven't helped matters, and how perhaps they have been dealt with by our service hasn't helped with the relationship. But it's definitely strained. I don't believe it's been broken."
Bottineau said the police do take missing persons cases seriously.
On Friday, Bottineau and Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders met family members of Wells and Richey to hear their concerns. The meeting was held before Saunders announced that the police professional standards unit will review the response to the missing person report filed for Richey.
"They were upset by how they were treated by our service. The chief and I listened to that directly. And what they told us, I can see why they would be upset. And that's why we're having these conversations."
She said the police should have listened more carefully to the family members in the two cases.
"I think we should have had probably more of an open ear to the families, knowing that their loved ones had gone missing and that it was out of character for them. And we perhaps should have listened to that," she said.
Citizens, not police officers, found the bodies of the two missing women. Richey's mother discovered her daughter's body near a stairwell outside a home under renovation on Church Street.
Richey was strangled to death, but the cause of death in the Wells case has not been released.
On Monday, Nicki Ward, a director of the Church-Wellesley Neighbourhood Association, told Metro Morning that police were slow to respond to both missing persons cases and did not make them priorities until community and family members spoke out.
Ward said confidence in the police has evaporated and described the relationship between the community and police as "broken."
As a result of the criticism, Bottineau said the force has assigned four additional neighbourhood officers to patrol the area.
Police had planned to hold a town hall meeting in the Church-Wellesley area this week but have postponed it because a memorial service is being held for Wells Tuesday afternoon.
"We didn't want anything to overshadow that. The community is still in mourning. And they need to go through that process," she said. "They lost a family member so we respectfully took a step back from that."
Bottineau said it will likely be held at another time, possibly in the new year, but no date has been set.
The memorial for Wells is set to run from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at Sanctuary, 25 Charles St. E., near Yonge and Bloor Streets.