Globe and Mail

Fear drives people inside, report says

Crime perceived to be rising; task force calls for commmunity-wide measures to make city safer

Tuesday, February 23, 1999
The Globe and Mail

Ben knows Toronto's streets can be mean. He's got a scar to prove it.

"All they got was a dollar," said the middle-aged resident of a Regent Park housing development, who wouldn't give his last name. Dressed in a long, dirty coat, he pulled away a scarf to display a line on his cheek that he got in a late night mugging on Queen Street last summer.

Stories such as Pen's may be keeping people off the streets of Toronto the Good, a city task force reported yesterday. Although statistics show crime is declining, the proportion of violent crime has increased, the task force's report said. It said that 43 per cent of Toronto residents believe crime has risen in the past two years and 42 per cent of women feel unsafe walking at night.

Yet many Torontonians on the streets yesterday said the only thing they were afraid of is the cold.

"If you don't portray yourself as a victim, I don't believe you will be a victim," said Philip Unrau, who lives across from Regent Park.

The Community Safety Strategy, released yesterday, makes 36 wide-ranging recommendations to make Toronto safer, which the authors say won't require additional money. Councillors Brad Duguid and Rob Davis, who chaired the committee of police and community groups that issued the report, repeatedly made the point yesterday that Toronto's crime rate is lower than those in other North American cities of comparable size.

"One of the reasons we're successful as a city is because we've been vigilant about fighting crime ... about promoting safety in our neighborhoods," Mr. Davis said at a news conference.

The report said poverty is a root cause of crime and calls for community initiatives such as: neighbourhood safety audits; speedy removal of graffiti; recreation services for poor children and youth; parenting courses; and mentoring programs for young people.

Councillor Maria Augimeri criticized the report for not going far enough to address poverty and the inequalities of service across the newly amagalmated city.

Police Chief David Boothby said yesterday he supports the recommendations and the department is already working on the 18 suggestions that involve the police.

The report calls for the city to allocate $5.6-million, the equivalent of 1 per cent of the police budget, to be spent on crime-prevention programs.

Mr. Davis pointed to change's made on the subway system as examples of fairly small and inexpensive moves that can influence public perception.

At Kennedy subway station, dirge-like classical music is broadcast loudly to discourage young people from loitering at the station. A 15-year-old was fatally stabbed there three years ago, and the Toronto Transit Commission has since increased the number of transit security officers. A youth outreach worker patrols the station after school to divert potential troublemakers to a nearby recreation centre.

But some commuters still approach the station with trepidation.

"I'm more afraid, I never go out at night," said Pamela Wise, who says senior citizens like her are especially vulnerable.

"You're not safe in these places either," she said, gesturing to the busy station, filled with students. "I know a lady, she just bumped arms with a bunch of kids and they swarmed her.

Copyright © 1999 The Globe and Mail