Lack of faith in Toronto police prompts Church and Wellesley to take safety into its own hands
Community leader says residents are relying on each other, not police, after deaths, disappearances
Members of the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood are returning to "old school ways" to keep themselves safe in the wake of two recent deaths and a string of disappearances, a community leader says.
Nicki Ward, director of the Church-Wellesley Neighbourhood Association, says that means residents are looking out for each other, reporting bad dates and keeping an eye on suspicious people.
Ward said transgender people who live in Church and Wellesley area, in particular, have lost faith in the police force because of the way it handled the death of resident Alloura Wells.
Wells, 27, a transgender woman, was found dead on August 5 in a Rosedale ravine. She was reported missing by her father on Nov. 5, and her remains were identified on Nov. 30 through DNA testing.
Ward says it's clear the police did not make the case a priority.
"What little confidence that the community had in the Toronto Police Service has completely evaporated, and I think, with good reason," Ward said.
The neighbourhood association is developing a safe walk program and exploring the idea of developing an app that would work as a panic button and alert "trusted people."
Ward said she would like to talk to Ryerson University and University of Toronto officials to find out how they have conducted safe walks.
She said the neighbourhood, a small geographic area, is characterized by "a great deal of courage and resilience," but described the relationship between the LGBTQ community and the police as "broken."
The lack of faith in police has also developed in the wake of the death of Tess Richey, 22, she said. Richey went missing on Nov. 25 at 3 a.m. and was found dead on Nov. 29 at 3:30 p.m.
It was her mother, in from North Bay to help search, that found her body.
The pattern in the Richey case and the Wells case was very similar, Ward said. "The police were slow off the mark."
"When you report a missing person, the first 24 hours are incredibly important. And historically, and certainly in our neighbourhood, the police services have ignored missing persons reports, sometimes for days, and indeed weeks, or in one case months, before the missing persons report was actually accepted as real."
In the interview, Ward said the community has "institutional memory" from previous decades that it will draw upon to try to protect itself from violence.
"Members of our community have lived through times when there was no police protection," she said. "We want to tap into that."
Police need to improve 911 response times, how it distributes officers in the neighbourhood and the degree of priority it places on crimes reported in the area, she said.
Part of the policing problem is also due to the fact that the neighbourhood lies at the junction of Toronto police's 51, 52, 53 divisions, a problem that Ward said is unacknowledged.
With files from Metro Morning