'I am fed up': Some residents in 'high priority' areas welcome police crack down on gun violence

Some residents of neighbourhoods that Toronto police have identified as "high priority" in the fight against gun violence say they welcome an increase in the number of uniformed officers patrolling around their homes.

'We're supposed to feel secure enough in our home,' says grandmother in Humber Heights

A Toronto police officer speaks to a resident on Dixon Road during an evening patrol of the area. (Chris Langenzarde/CBC)

Some residents of neighbourhoods that Toronto police have identified as "high priority" in the fight against gun violence say they welcome an increase in the number of uniformed officers patrolling around their homes. 

"We aren't supposed to be living in this place and have to be living in fear, because this our home," says Ultris Ottley. The 55-year-old has lived in Humber Heights in north Etobicoke for a decade. 

"We're supposed to feel secure enough in our home, so we are able to bring up our children the right way," she adds. 

Ottley spoke with a Radio-Canada reporter who, along with a camera operator, spent Saturday evening with Toronto police officers as they patrolled in the northwest corner of the city.

Last week, the force started implementing the enforcement component of its "gun violence reduction plan." That includes some 200 additional officers on shift in particular neighbourhoods between the hours of 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. — when most shootings occur.

Ultris Ottley said she's 'fed up' with feeling unsafe in her own home and welcomes increased enforcement efforts by police. (Chris Langenzarde/CBC)

The move comes amid mounting public pressure on police to curb a recent spate of violence that peaked near the end of June, when 11 people were shot in a span of seven days. 

Some advocates have been critical of the strategy, saying it's just another permutation of previous failed efforts to crack down on gang-related crime that resulted in racialized policing practices.

Police Chief Mark Saunders has said that the added presence of officers in particular areas is based on "intelligence" and targeted toward some 1,000 individuals that have been identified as major players in Toronto's firearm-related crimes.

It's also about rebuilding and maintaining a constructive rapport between police and the people they serve.

"Our purpose here is to engage with the community in a positive way, develop relationships, so they feel comfortable speaking to us when something is happening in their community," said Sgt. Stephanie Burritt. 

Burritt works in 23 Division, and has previously been part of specialized efforts to build trust with community members. On Saturday evening, she was on patrol in the Dixon Road area, a Toronto neighbourhood that has seen a disproportionate level of gun violence in recent years. 

"The good people living in these communities welcome our presence here and are glad to see the visibility. It makes them feel safer," Burritt said.

Mohamed Abdirhaman said many in his community are feeling uneasy after a rash of shootings in the city. (Chris Langenzarde/CBC)

Mohamed Abdirhaman, a father who has lived in an apartment complex on Dixon Road for six years, says there's a pervasive uneasiness about what feels like increased violence, even if statistics don't necessarily buttress the idea.

He explains that more uniformed officers could help allay some of those concerns. 

Ottley, a mother of six children — she lost a son in a shooting in Trinidad in February — and grandmother of 15, echoed that sentiment. She says that she understands why some people are wary of police efforts in communities of colour, but given the current atmosphere, she "appreciates" the added officers.

"I don't care if they want to put too much police, I am fed up. When we see them, we know they're doing their jobs. People who don't like police? That's their business," she said outside her home in a building operated by Toronto Community Housing. 

In January, Ottley's 22-year-old neighbour, Shaquille Wallace, was gunned down outside the building as he returned home from work. 

"My eldest grandson is almost 17 and I'm scared for him coming down here. And I fear for my neighbour's children also ... Why, because we're living in community housing, do we have to feel less safe than somebody who has bought a house?" Ottley asks. 

In addition to increased enforcement and engagement from police, the city is also investing $12 million into existing programs focused on keeping young people out of criminal lifestyles.

Toronto police Sgt. Stephanie Burritt talks to residents during an evening patrol. She has previously worked in specialized programs focused on community outreach and engagement. (Chris Langenzarde/CBC)

Mayor John Tory said earlier this month that the money will flow "into communities where we know there are youth who need support." 

Ottley says those kinds of investments are necessary and welcome. But she believes the circumstances require an urgent response.

"If [the city] can do other stuff, then I appreciate it," she said of the community programs. "But right now, we have the police. So that's who we have to depend on."