"I've often felt people turn to crime because of their appearances, or their hair," jokes Jim Hogan, the Toronto police sergeant in charge of this shift.
Sergeant Hogan's shift this morning includes two female officers and one male officer who is Muslim, but most officers are white. One comes from a line of police officers and has handcuffs tattooed on his left calf.
This unit does have one black officer, I'm told, but he's off with an injured ankle.
It's a special day - the morning after the first shooting since they've arrived. The 16-year-old boy shot in the drive-by. Sgt. Hogan addresses his troops, starting off with a joke.
"The only good news is it was at 8 o'clock last night," he quips.
Everyone laughs. Of course, they had finished their shift the previous night at five o'clock and were gone by the time the first shot was fired.
Sgt. Hogan - who officers call "Sarge" - tells them about the "vic," the wounded boy. "He's shooting out names left, right, and centre, but obviously they can't all be involved," Sarge says. "He's just trying to appease the detective."
The dozen or so TAVIS officers on this shift spend the day on foot and bicycle. They examine the scene of the shooting, where bullet holes puncture a wall. They make note of two Eglinton West Crip tags - one simply the world "Crips," and another "EWC" with a sort of jester hat shape over it. The crews who usually remove such things are on strike.
The TAVIS officers ride through precarious alleys, and check on an abandoned house to make sure no one is squatting. They talk to everyone, and have drawn some heat for what residents consider unfair questioning of innocent men who dress like thugs. Either way, TAVIS is visible.
"The chief's mandate is clear," explains Staff Superintendent Glenn De Caire, who heads up the TAVIS squad. "Establish positive relationships, identify those relationships that will help us fix the problem, and also give people the courage to come forward and give us information."
Jarvis St. Remy's mother is waiting for those relationships to pay dividends. Her attention was piqued this week by rumours of an arrest in her son's case. The handling detectives aren't returning her calls this week, or the Globe's. One police source said an announcement was coming soon.
"I want justice for Jarvis. I don't care in what way, I just want justice for Jarvis. I want whoever did that to Jarvis to suffer a thousand times worse than Jarvis," Ms. Joseph says. "I'm still waiting for the call where police can say they found Jarvis's killer. So I can look him in the eye and say. 'Why? Why Jarvis?' "
The breaking point
In the basement gymnasium of her Toronto Community Housing building, Charmaine Baird called a meeting this month to discuss safety and violence.
The 38-year-old tenant representative is an impassioned community member who has her work cut out for her. This building, at 2468 Eglinton Ave. W., is on the breaking point - it's full of well-intentioned families whose members can fall into the wrong crowd. Frost lived there. Goon worked there. The 16-year-old was shot there.
"We take those [people]out, our community is back," said the recently elected Ms. Baird, a mother of four. "It's on a roll. We're on the right track."
Two weeks later at another community meeting, Chief Blair praised people like Ms. Baird as what York South - Weston needs to turn itself around. I ask him if they think they've done that.
"Not completely," the chief says, careful not to name the gangs. "We've already taken out a number of people from these gangs."
Residents of all stripes who attended raised the same question: What are we going to do when TAVIS leaves? Will street gangs rise again? ("Give it three weeks after that, the community will be back the way it was," one long-time resident, 54-year-old Ray Cammalleri, told me earlier.)
Police point out 12 Division has a year-round batch of TAVIS officers, and it's just the 32 officers (Sarge's crew) they're losing. At the same time, police credit those 32 with making the difference.
"All the people who are usually assigned to 12 Division will still be doing what they've always done," said Supt. Smollet, sitting next to Chief Blair.
Earlier, I had asked the residents' question to him in his office: Will gang activity spike up again after TAVIS leaves?
The veteran policeman paused.
"What we're doing right now could simply be sticking your finger in the dike. And the instant these officers leave, it could all start up again," Supt. Smollet says. "We really don't know. We don't like to think that could happen."Report Typo/Error