FOR STAFF SERGEANT Peter Henry, the real goal of his 22-year career as a Toronto police officer hasn’t been just beating crime. It’s been changing attitudes. Whether giving talks in Leaside on theft or organizing volunteer basketball games in Thorncliffe Park, Henry is on the offensive when it comes to making a difference.
“As opposed to responding to radio calls, to go beyond that and work with the community, that has an even greater impact,” he says.
Ten years ago, Henry became a local mainstay as an officer with 53 Division. But his story starts long before that: when he was 14, he worked at a York Region apartment building where several police officers lived. “I looked up to them,” says Henry. “They were role models. It was the first time I saw policing as a real interest.”
That interest became a reality after he graduated from York University. In 1988, at the age of 22, Henry became a police officer.
His first days were spent policing the Jane and Finch area. During his first week, he recovered two machine guns from a car and was called to the scene of an attempted murder. “It was an eye-opening experience, ”says Henry.
Later he worked in the Don Mills Road and York Mills Road area until he was promoted in 2000 to a position within 53 Division where he still works today.
Henry has spent a lot of his time working with street people in the Yonge and Eglinton area as well as working with youth guilty of street crime. He says going the extra step to talk things out can make all the difference. “A lot of the time,you’re dealing with young people,” says Henry. “They’re at a critical time in their lives.”
On other occasions, Henry has worked with the whole community to solve street crime problems. A little more than a year ago, Henry dealt with a spike of street crime thefts in Leaside. The crimes stirred the community, and Henry began lecturing at high schools such as Northern Secondary and Leaside High. He also participated in a town hall meeting.
Henry says, as a result, members of the community began to be more cautious while others who were previously reluctant to report a crime came forward. “It had a big impact,” he says, noting that several arrests were later made.
However, perhaps the biggest impact Henry has had is in Thorncliffe Park. Every year, his division hosts several volunteer sports leagues such as the Slam Dunk Violence basketball team, which starts up again this fall.
In addition, Henry and his co- workers will sometimes take the kids to watch Raptors games live, sometimes from floor seats. “One kid aspired to be a professional basketball player … it had to be a lifetime experience for him.”
As for Henry, just playing a game with the Thorncliffe kids on the court is enough of an experience: “To see these kids doing something positive, figuring out who they are,” says Henry. “Knowing that I’ve helped people … it’s something to remember.”