TCH wants big boost in roster of special constables

In the face of rising violence on its properties, Toronto Community Housing will ask the Police Services Board Tuesday to almost double its capacity to hire special constables.

More than a third of city's shooting deaths have happened on TCH property this year

Ilona Bata, a Regent Park resident and tenant rep, says she welcomes more security officers on TCH grounds. (Mike Smee/CBC)

In the face of rising violence on its properties, Toronto Community Housing will ask the Police Services Board Tuesday to almost double its capacity to hire special constables.

TCH is currently authorized to employ as many as 160 special constables. It wants that number increased to a maximum of 300.

Ilona Bata, a tenant rep in Regent Park, said she "absolutely" supports putting more special constables on the ground, in the hope that it'll quell some of the violence she sees.

"It can get pretty bad," she said. "People come in my building and they buy their drugs right there; the drug dealers actually live in our building but it's really hard to get them out."

In 2018, TCH properties represented 37.5 per cent of the city's shootings, TCH staff wrote in September, yet only four per cent of the city's population live on TCH property.

That's up by about 10 per cent over the number of shootings on public housing property in 2017.

TCH will ask the Toronto Police Services Board on Tuesday to approve its request to increase its capacity of special constables fromo 160 to 300, although it says that many will not be hired in the near future. (Rob Krbavac/CBC)

The number of murders committed by firearm is also way up on TCH properties, from nine per cent of the city's total in 2017, to 37.8 per cent, as of Aug. 31 this year.

However, the percentage of total murders has remained steady since 2017. About 22 per cent of Toronto homicides were committed on TCH property in both years.

Bill Anderson, senior director of the TCH community safety unit, told CBC Toronto it's difficult to pinpoint exactly why TCH has seen an increase in violent incidents over the past year or so.

"We have been disproportionate to the rest of the population, but when we say disproportionate we have to recognize as crime is disproportionate, so is the density and concentration of people with vulnerabilities, and where there are vulnerabilities there are opportunities for victimization, and crime usually follows. That is a reality," Anderson said.

Although the corporation wants the ability to hire up to 140 new security staff, Anderson  said it won't hire nearly that many in the near future. He said 26 new constables are currently being trained; he hopes to attract 60 more recruits in the year ahead.

"We have to have feet on the ground," he said.

Bill Anderson, the head of the TCH Community Safety Unit, says although the corporation wants approval to hire up to 140 new special constables, it will likely only deploy about 80 in the year ahead. (Rob Krbavac/CBC)

According to Toronto Police Service numbers, TCH currently has 117 special constables on duty.

Each new hire costs about $80,000, Anderson said.

The new hires will be concentrated in 10 TCH properties identified in September's report as "high risk neighbourhoods that would benefit from increased security presence, community engagement, intelligence gathering and enforcement."

Those neighbourhoods include Regent Park, where Bata lives. 

Upping the number of special constables could "get rid of some of the elements that are causing the problems," she said

"They're in gangs and their initiation is to shoot somebody."

Moss Park is one of the 10 'high risk' TCH neighbourhoods identified by staff. Those neighbourhoods would see more special constables if the TCH proposal is approved on Tuesday. (Rob Krbavac/CBC)

Anderson said he's hopeful the hiring strategy will benefit residents.

"We want people to feel safe in their communities and enjoy where they live," he said. "I think any time people feel better about their security and you enhance it, it's a positive all round."


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