TAVIS takes to Etobicoke streets
Sunday, October 14, 2012
BY TOM GODFREY
TORONTO - Toronto Police are canvassing residents of the Jameston Cres. area this weekend with signs in Somali language seeking information to nab those responsible for the execution-style slayings of Suleiman Ali and his cousin, Warsame.
Homicide Squad detectives are working long hours to bring the shooter to justice and answers to grieving parents of the 26-year-olds, who were gunned down Sep. 18 about 1:20 a.m. in a laneway near 37 Jamestown Cres., near Martin Grove Rd. and Finch Ave. W.
A majority of residents in this high-risk area are Somalis, who arrived here as refugees and do not speak English as a first language. Many don’t even open their doors due to past fears of police.
Police say the victims did not live in the area and were lured to their deaths by a rival shooter or gang members. They were Toronto’s 39th and 40th murder victims of 2012 and the 5th and 6th Somali-Canadian men killed since June.
A memorial of dried flowers, leaves and candles marked a spot on a walkway where they men once laid in a puddle of blood. Residents just feet away claim they weren’t at home of didn’t hear the sound of gunshots.
The complex has little or no security cameras since gangsters shoot the existing ones down as soon as they’re installed, police say.
Officers of 23 Division have a hard time obtaining information from residents of Jamestown, and other hotspots that include highrises on Panorama Crt., and a notorious Mount Olive housing complex.
The city’s north-west division had the highest incidents of gun crime in Toronto until last May, when officers of Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS), were summoned to bring the area under control.
The division had 52 shootings from Aug. 2011 to Aug. 2012 and about 101 shootings in the last three years, according to police statistics.
Officers said shootings were up 133% in the area mostly from gunplay by the Jamestown Crips and Mount Olive Crips who are feuding with other gangs.
Residents say the increased police presence in Rexdale have driven some gunmen and gang bangers to other areas of Toronto and Brampton.
Police have since taken tough measures to combat gun crimes, including stepped-up enforcement, as well as behind-the-scenes community-building programs.
The division covers diverse communities of new immigrants and runs from Hwy. 27 to the west and Humber River to the east to Steeles Ave. W., to the north and Eglinton Ave. W. to the south.
Staff-Sgt. Kim Scanlan said her officers are making inroads in the high-risk communities.
“There were dozens of shootings prior to last June,” Scanlan says. “We have seen a decrease in serious crime in the area with TAVIS.”
Scanlan shows a large wall map of her division with all the recent shootings in red. It seems as if most of the gunplay occur at three or four addresses on the map.
She said a sense of community safety that started in June when TAVIS came into the area was shattered in September with the grisly Alis’ double-murder.
“That was the first double-homicide we had in a long time,” Scanlan says. “Violent crimes are going down in the division.”
She oversees officers, who when not playing soccer every Wednesday with local teens, are cycling through the problem-areas late into the night in search of criminals.
Neighbourhood TAVIS members Sgt. Brett McFarquhar and Const. Deanna Jovanovich spend most of their shifts cycling through Rexdale housing projects.
The partners pedal hundreds of kms of laneways that snake through Jamestown or Mount Olive to ensure the areas are safe. Most of the residents they encounter at night are searched for guns and have their names run through a police computer system for warrants or reporting conditions.
McFarquhar says drug trafficking is widespread and it brings other crimes into the area.
“Drugs are the main problem around here,” he says. “Its not huge amounts but a lot of dime bags.”
We pull up in a police cruiser to a Mount Olive complex, near Kipling Ave., across from North Albion Collegiate Institute, and watch people scatter since no one wants to be questioned by police.
“They (traffickers) stand here and deal their drugs right across from a school,” Jovanovich points out. “They sell drugs to students or sometime students are selling it to other students.”
During their rounds the officers patrol high-risk high schools and areas where students are known to deal or smoke dope. We roll up to a Panorama Crt. highrise and park the police vehicle. The cops quietly walk to a large brick wall, behind which local teens are usually found smoking pot. Today, there’s nobody there.
“We usually sneak up on them,” McFarquhar says. “Most of the time there are people behind there doing drugs.”
He recently arrested a 14-year-old boy who was charged with trafficking in cocaine.
“The drugs were in individual bags,” McFarquhar says. “That incident wasn’t to far from a school.”
The youth, who was allegedly selling coke to students, is before the courts.
Their patrol takes them to the John Garland Plaza where the wearing of gang-type bandanas and hoodies are banned and can lead to a $125 ticket.
Several signs have been installed in different areas of the plaza alerting shoppers that those wearing a head-dress can be kicked out or fined.
“There used to be a lot of drug dealers who hung out at this plaza,” McFarquhar says at the Martingrove Rd., and John Garland Blvd. mall. “A lot of stores were having problems with the kids when they all stream in at lunch.”
The patrols and fines have helped to rid the plaza of drug dealers and trouble makers, police say.
Some of the hot spots are tagged with the names of street gangs that include the Crips, Blood, Ardwick Bloods and Jamestown Crew who stake out their turf.
TAVIS officers have become known to many in the community and have gained the trust of some. The cops even installed a basketball net in Jamestown and help organize sporting activities.
“We can get from 50 to 100 kids out on some nights,” McFarquhar says. “They like playing soccer and hanging out with the cops.”
Police said many of the teens wouldn’t have left their homes to play soccer if the cops weren’t there.
Scanlan has even started a coffee club with women, who are mostly single mothers and some crime victims who meet every second Tuesday. And, Supt. Ron Taverner has developed a “Cool Tool School,” a program that teaches residents how to use basic tools to perform minor home repairs.