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Village business owners worry about crime

Toronto police statistics show crime is down in 2012

Statistics courtesy of Toronto police.

Despite ongoing concerns about crime in the Church Wellesley Village, Toronto police statistics from 2012 show that crime is down significantly compared to 2011. 

The statistics were provided at the Church and Wellesley Village Business Improvement Area (CWVBIA) annual general meeting Dec 10. Mark Kennedy, crime analyst for Toronto Police 51 division, says police presence has been increased in the Church and Wellesley Village.

Compared to 2011, Kennedy says break and enters are down 57 percent, robberies down 70 percent, sexual assaults down 83 percent and thefts from vehicles down 66 percent. There were zero car thefts reported in 2012, he says.

However, Kennedy says, the statistics don’t account for all 911 calls, only crimes in which a charge was laid.

“In the beginning of the year we were dealing with a number of street robberies and drug related activities,” he says. “After that, we increased police presence in the area.

“The numbers are good, but don’t think for a second we are satisfied with where they are,” Kennedy adds.

Still, some business owners say the numbers don’t paint an accurate picture of crime in the Village and merchants feel unsafe on Church Street.

In August, Xtra reported a spike in gang-related swarming attacks and street robberies in the Village, most of which went unreported. At the time, the victims — many of whom asked for anonymity — told Xtra about their experience, but also expressed fear about going to police.

BIA manager David Wootton says the low crime numbers speak to the fact victims are still reluctant to report crimes to police. “What this comes down to is businesses should maybe start thinking about bringing on independent security,” he says. “The police say they are doing as much as they can, so what is the solution?”

Steamworks general manager John Broadhagen said he is concerned about the ongoing problem with crime in the Village. He says Church Street business owners are regularly threatened and harassed by groups of people loitering on the street, in front of businesses, and sometimes drinking and doing drugs in Cawthra Park.

“I’ve been at Steamworks for four years and over those four years I’ve had to kick out a lot of people. It’s the nature of our business,” he says. “I now have these people accosting me outside of where I work.”

Broadhagen says he is worried for the safety of his staff and patrons. “I also live in the Village, five minutes from work. I’ve had people follow me home. They know where I live. This is getting to be too much. It’s really increased in the last month.

“Some of my staff are even afraid to leave work at midnight.”

When he calls police, he says it usually takes hours for an officer to arrive. Broadhagen would like to see an increase in police presence in the hours between midnight and 5 am.

“Police have been less than helpful,” he says. “We call in the morning, they show up at 5:30 at night.”

Toronto Police officers acknowledged the issue at the AGM and said they are aware of the problem. Sgt. Nancy McLean told all business owners to keep calling and reporting incidents, even if police fail to arrive on scene. Officers are in demand all over the city, she says.

BIA co-chair Liz Devine says business owners have complained to police for years about intimidating street people. “This has been an issue for 20 years. The people change, but the issues stay the same.”

“Look, we don’t want to get beaten up and we don’t want our customers to run away from our businesses because they’re afraid to come in the door.”

She says business owners understand that some people have mental health and addiction issues, and others are homeless and panhandle for food.

“It’s also got worse as the economy gets worse,” Broadhagen offers. “People get more desperate. We feel helpless.”