How safe is midtown Toronto?
We drilled down into Toronto Police statistical reports to see how safe local neighbourhoods such as Leaside, Rosedale and Forest Hill have been in 2018
The city has suffered through a year of the most awful crimes imaginable, from the North York van attack and the Danforth shooter to the Leaside serial murders and the Sherman homicides. These incidents dominated headlines and made us all feel less safe. But what about in our own backyards? People rifling through our vehicles and swiping packages off our porches are nowhere near as disturbing, but when crime hits close to home we take it very seriously. To that end, we look back at the year in neighbourhood crime and ask the question: Just how safe is our own backyard?
DiDi Cameron started a neighbourhood watch in her area
Assault on a neighbour inspired a new neighbourhood watch
On a Saturday afternoon last fall, midtown resident DiDi Cameron was walking home after a run when she found out one of her neighbours had been attacked, slashed and stabbed in broad daylight.
“That afternoon, I was really nervous,” said Cameron. “I’m a single mom of three, but even if you were married with five kids, you would still be nervous that this person was lurking around.”
Cameron contacted Const. Timothy Somers at Toronto Police Service, 53 Division to discuss ways they could make the community safer. She then went door to door, sharing her email address with neighbours and telling them that she was going to start a neighbourhood watch in a private, online Google group.
“By that Sunday, I had 80 families join. They had all emailed me, and I was up and running on Monday,” said Cameron.
Her neighbourhood watch group now includes more than 400 families, and she’s been in touch with residents in Mount Pleasant, Forest Hill, Rosedale and Bathurst-Eglinton to create similar groups in those areas.
Although the idea for a neighbourhood watch group was triggered by an assault, much of the group’s focus is on auto theft, and home and car break-ins.
“[The neighbourhood watch] has been absolutely instrumental in at least three arrests already in 2018 that would have never happened without it, simply because they got ahead of it with video and reported suspicious incidents that fit the category of somebody who was preparing for a break and enter,” said Const. Somers.
POLICE INSIGHT: “There has been a steady number of assaults, and it can be half attributed to the fact that people are fighting back in robberies and not giving up their property.” — Police Constable Timothy Somers, 53 Division
Auto thefts increase as thieves use new technology to clone key fobs from a distance
As of mid-October this year, 148 cars had been reported stolen to Toronto Police Service, 53 Division. This is a drastic increase from the 59 cars reported stolen in 2017.
“We can tell you what has driven that spike,” said Const. Timothy Somers. “There’s been changes in technology that have become available for people to mimic or to clone the key fobs of various models of vehicles using laptop technology.”
Basically, a car thief simply needs to get close enough to a home to reach the signal that is being emitted by a person’s key fob and then clone that key fob into their laptop. The laptop then becomes the key fob. They walk up to the vehicle and the signal tells the car that they are the owner, so it opens the doors and the thief is able to drive away.
Steve Kee, a representative from the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said he has also seen new types of technology and apps that allow car thieves easy access to vehicles.
“A highly motivated thief with the right tools can steal a vehicle in a matter of seconds, so ensure you’re doing everything in your power to not leave yourself vulnerable,” said Kee.
POLICE INSIGHT: “Put all key fobs in the microwave at night and it seems to have an impact. Because microwaves are sealed for radiation, it also seals them from transmitting signals.” — Constable Somers
53 Division at 75 Eglinton Ave. W. (Yonge & Eglinton)
Robberies decrease after police crack down on Yonge & Eglinton incidents
Unlike many other crime statistics for 53 Division that show increases from 2017 to 2018 year-to-date, intsances of robbery have decreased.
“One of the things we realized with robberies was there was a large focus on robberies in the Yonge-Eglinton area,” said Const. Somers. “We were able to determine through investigation and tracking that that was being largely instigated by the student population of the surrounding schools.”
Somers said that the police were able to identify and infiltrate the behaviour of certain groups of students from different schools in the area.
“It made a significant dent in the amount of robberies in 53 Division,” said Const. Somers.
Similarly in Leaside this past August, a 15-year-old male and 19-year-old male were arrested and charged after allegedly robbing a 17-year-old male and 18-year old female at gunpoint as they were walking in Howard Talbot Park.
THEFT OVER $5,000
Rise of porch thieves accounts for many theft over $5,000 cases
The rate of theft over $5,000 cases in 53 Division has essentially stayed the same from 2017 to 2018 year-to-date, but Const. Somers said one of the main differences this year is that many of these cases can be attributed to porch thieves.
“A large chunk of what you’re seeing there are theft from mail, package theft, shoplifting and theft from motor vehicles where they’ve been broken into and [thieves] stole items such as computers, cameras, things like that,” said Const. Somers.
Package delivery companies, such as FedEx, Purolator, UPS and Canada Post, have seen an increase in package theft due to the rise of online shopping and the popularity of websites like Amazon.
“We had one just a couple days ago, and we actually got the entire incident on video where a person just simply drove around the neighbourhood in his SUV, he looked for packages, and when he’d see them on the porch, he’d simply just walk up, grab them and nonchalantly walk back and load them in his truck,” said Const. Somers. “People are ordering things to their door, and that just opens the door to this type of thief to come and grab those packages.”
Steve Kee of the Insurance Bureau of Canada said, “If you’re having deliveries and things come, it’s better to arrange for times that you’re going to be at home or to have them go to some sort of a local drop-off location.”
POLICE INSIGHT: “There has been an increase in 2018 in package theft that has led to a stability in the number of people who have reported theft over $5,000 because package theft has become a huge issue.” — Constable Somers
Two suspects who were arrested as part of a break-in ring
Local resident reports break-ins as a frequent occurrence
There have been more than 400 break-ins reported in 53 Division this year and Const. Timothy Somers of 53 Division said that is significant.
“Criminals have become more sophisticated and are targeting houses for specifics,” said Const. Somers, adding break-in rings are using more people to case neighbourhoods. “Because that takes time to study people’s schedules to figure out when to appropriately break into a house.”
Bedford Park resident Michelle Lalanne says she can’t count how many times her car has been broken into.
“Usually, for us at least, it’s when we’ve forgotten to lock a car. It’s rifled through, the glove box will be open or the console will be open, but we don’t usually have anything of value in the car,” she said.
That was until her car was broken into in early October and her husband’s Canada Goose jacket was stolen from the trunk.
She has never reported these incidents to police and mostly views them as a nuisance.
“That is a real problem in policing,” said Const. Somers. “I understand that they feel that it’s almost like a what’s the point kind of thing, but it is extraordinarily important to report those to the police because it allows us to track them, and it allows us to put investigative teams in the right place at the right time.”
For Lalanne, it’s the invasion of personal space that affects her the most.
“How often are people walking through the neighbourhood and committing these crimes? We don’t know what time it’s happening, and it’s kind of creepy in a sense that just outside your door people are brazen enough to try and get into cars,” Lalanne said.
POLICE INSIGHT: “There’s been a lot more organized crime behind break and enters this year. I’m not talking about any specific group. I’m talking about a group of individuals working as an organization to facilitate break and enters.” — Constable Somers