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A group of students walk in front of yellow police tape after their school was reopened following a shooting at the corner of Birchmount Rd., and Bay Mills Blvd. (Fernando Morales for The Globe and Mail/Fernando Morales for The Globe and Mail)
A group of students walk in front of yellow police tape after their school was reopened following a shooting at the corner of Birchmount Rd., and Bay Mills Blvd. (Fernando Morales for The Globe and Mail/Fernando Morales for The Globe and Mail)

Tenants

Residents of Toronto public housing four times more likely to be murder victims Add to ...

Whether the departed patrol staff get replaced may be addressed after a new TCHC board takes shape, likely after approval at a June 14 city council meeting. In the meantime, Ford spokesman Mark Towhey said, "the safety and security of everyone in Toronto is always a top priority and the mayor expects TCHC will work closely with the police and the community to reduce crime in its neighbourhoods wherever possible."

More crime, fewer patrols

Few police officers know Toronto's meanest streets and walkways better than Constable Scott Mills, the city's long-time Crime Stoppers officer for schools and now the Toronto Police Service's social-media officer.

"I'm in the [poor]neighbourhoods quite regularly and there are great people who live in them, a lot of kids who want to succeed and do succeed," he said. "But if you look at an overlay of crime and gangs on a map, you will see that the vast majority of our violent crimes happen in or near community-housing locations. I have maps of where the gangs are, they're all in those spots, and they have a strong hold on a lot of the good people, who have good information they want to give to the police but are too scared to do so."

TCHC director of community safety Terry Skelton did not return multiple requests for comment over several weeks, and a Globe request to accompany community patrol officers on their rounds was turned down.

Yet while the statistics since the 2010 report are incomplete, there is scant doubt the imbalance persists. Between January and July of 2010, there were six murders in TCHC communities, and in January of this year alone there were three, one at a Scarborough address on Birchmount Road that witnessed an earlier murder in 2008.

The numbers, moreover, exclude the clusters of murders and other crimes that occur close to but not on TCHC properties, many of which are located in deprived areas.

On or off TCHC property, the fear of reprisals for talking to police is real.

"It's hard to get past that, because if you do [help police] the cops probably won't be there when you need them," said a youth who lives near where Andrew Naidoo was killed Sunday night. "So yeah, people get scared."

Since the 2003 decision to reduce community patrol officers from about 200 to roughly 80, the TCHC has also deployed private security contractors at about a dozen sites, chiefly downtown, and a spokesman for the agency said the changes have "streamlined the administration and management structure."

But at least one Toronto family sees things differently.

A 2007 lawsuit brought against TCHC by the Cadougan family claims that the staff cutbacks, which encompassed the closing of security offices, were partly responsible for a 2005 drive-by shooting near Jane and Finch that injured five people and left four-year-old Shaquan Cadougan with a bullet permanently lodged in his body.

Because the lawsuit remains before the courts, TCHC declined comment.

But a former TCHC community patrol officer with more than a decade of experience, who spoke to The Globe and Mail on condition of anonymity, said the current security provisions are inadequate. With fewer officers, he said, the emphasis is on reacting to crimes, rather than thwarting them - a kind of community policing in reverse.

More personnel means more time in individual communities, learning tenants' names, establishing trust and gathering intelligence. Instead, "They're always going in after the fact - trying to deal with the mess afterwards," the former patrol officer said. "There's no prevention."

Mental health, outsiders and the flaws of 'island' design

Mental-health issues remain an enduring issue for the corporation, accounting for hundreds of incidents each year. A 2009 TCHC report cited residents who were "isolated, ignored and shunned by their neighbours and staff; tenants who had committed suicide, who lived in squalor, or whose mental illness prevented them from treating physical ailments; and vulnerable tenants whose units had been taken over by drug dealers and pimps, or became crowded by homeless people."

Over the previous 3 1/2 years[Jan. 2006-Aug. 2009]/note>, more than $1-million in damage had been done to TCHC property by tenants with mental-health difficulties.

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