With the exception of the fetish folks fewer people in gaytown wound up in handcuffs this summer. Crime in Toronto’s gay village is down, according to neighbourhhood officials.
Christopher Hudspeth, a police liaison for the Church and Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (CWVBIA), says he’s noticed less crime in the gay village, as well as an improvement in prevention efforts this past year.
“The biggest improvement is police presence,” says Hudspeth, an “LGBT community consultant” to Toronto Police Services 51 Division, the geographic policing boundary to which the gay village belongs.
Hudspeth says his role is not to report crime but to build positive relationships between the police and the gay community and to identify deficiencies, such as poorly lit corners or spots, both on and around Church St, that may require stronger police presence.
Hudspeth, who bartends at local gay bar Pegasus, began encouraging more police on Church St when he assumed his role at the CWVBIA two years ago out of concern for village bartenders who were getting mugged for their tips late at night after finishing work.
One problem police have tackled successfully, says Hudspeth, is the issue of aggressive panhandling in the gaybourhood. (Anyone who has been asked for a shoeshine or been offered a big bear hug while stumbling home on a Saturday night may have a clue about this).
“People were being harassed [by aggressive panhandlers],” says Hudspeth, who says he’s noticed a decrease in excessive begging once police began charging aggressive panhandlers with assault.
Each year the CWVBIA conducts a safety audit of the Church and Wellesley neighbourhood in which CWVBIA members, Toronto Hydro and city councillor Kyle Rae walk through the neighborhood’s streets, parks and alleyways to identify issues that may jeopardize community safety, from burnt out streetlights to those sharp metal staples used to poster lampposts.
CWVBIA coordinator David Wootton, who participated in the organization’s last audit, says he isn’t overly concerned about gaybourhood crime.
While the gay village has thefts and robberies, “like anywhere else in the city,” crime overall isn’t a major concern among merchants and community members in gaytown, says Wootton.
“The village tends to protect itself,” says Wootton, noting the efforts of community members who tackled this summer’s city garbage workers strike by organizing weekly neighbourhood cleanups.
According to Toronto Police Services 2009 statistics crime in 51 Division is down seven percent compared to 2008. In addition to Toronto’s gay village, which belongs to the greater Church-Yonge Corridor, 51 Division includes other city neighbourhoods including Cabbagetown, Moss Park, St Jamestown, Regent Park, the waterfront and south Riverdale.
Because Toronto Police Services do not typically file statistics based upon specific neighbourhoods, their numbers don’t show how many crimes take place specifically in Toronto’s gay village annually.
Lynne Robertson, crime analyst for 51 Division, says crime statistics for specific neighbourhoods aren’t compiled unless there is, for example, a command to record stats for the purposes of tackling specific neighbourhood problems, such as gangs or gun violence.
“There’s no binder that says ‘this’ neighbourhood,” says Robertson, who focuses on 51 Division “as a whole.”
However Toronto Police Services provides monthly reports on neighbourhood crimes within specific boundaries of any given division. For example, between the dates of Jul 17 and Aug 16, from Bloor to Front and between Yonge and Church, there were eight incidents of breaking-and-entering into commercial spaces. Three of the eight incidents occurred in the gay village, according to an August report.
Of course police statistics only account for the crimes people report. As Toronto Police Service spokesperson Const Wendy Drummond points out, many crimes, from sexual assault to bicycle theft, go undocumented.