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Another harrowing death in Toronto’s transit system — this time, the murder of 16-year-old Gabriel Magalhães — has renewed a broader question the city has been grappling with for months. What do we do now to respond to the rumblings of violence that rocked the city’s public transit system?
This is an urgent issue made more difficult by the diverse circumstances of alleged offenders. While there are indications that at least some of the accused in recent TTC violence cases were struggling with their mental health, experts caution against making broad links between mental illness and crime. Similarly, although some of the accused were living on the streets or in shelters, and homelessness is increasingly visible on transit, health and social service workers caution against accusing that population directly.
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While experts caution that there is no single cause or simple solution, a consensus has emerged in recent months that suggests faults in the city’s social fabric – a growing number of people in desperate circumstances without adequate support with. It’s an assessment supported by Gabriel’s mother, Andrea, who has been vocal about cuts to social resources and inadequate access to mental health care since her son’s death.
So, what can be done – in both the short and long term – to meaningfully change things? Here’s what health researchers and clinicians, criminologists and police leaders, social service workers and mental health advocates want to see in Toronto’s future.
View: More police may help, but beware of moral panic
Scott Wortley, a criminologist at the University of Toronto, found the recent violence “shocking”. They fear that the erosion of the social safety net in terms of violent crime could follow the path seen south of the Canadian border.
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However, Canadian data isn’t telling that story – not yet.
What we’re seeing may all be a blip, Wortley cautions. And with blips, such as the murder of Toronto teenager Jane Crabbe at the end of the so-called “Year of the Gun” in 2005, can come moral panic that fails to address systemic issues such as income inequality, affordability and mental health.
Wortley said, “Sometimes criminal incidents occur randomly and in close proximity to chance, and the media coverage and police attention to these crime waves creates a moral panic and requires politicians and other leaders to respond.” Is.”
The political go-to — more police on the TTC, for example — doesn’t address the underlying factors of what’s happening, but Wortley says it may ease fears in the short term.
Wortley said, “The police are always in a good position because you can increase police presence and police visibility almost immediately with the flow of money, as we’ve seen on the TTC over the past few months.”
“And that visibility, while it may not actually prevent crime, and studies show that it doesn’t, it quells public fear, and creates a sense of security. And, you know, This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Idea: Give us mobile phone service and more TTC employees
Mariana Valverde, also a criminologist at the U of T Center for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies, takes the subway to her downtown office. Although semi-retired, Valverde makes the trek to campus a few times a week, and the closest metro stop is St George’s. His well-known entrance is unaffected.
Instead of putting more police into the system, Valverde suggests adding more uniformed TTC employees, including at entrances.
While some may find comfort in seeing armed police, for others their presence can bring a sense of insecurity,” Valverde said. “Because you think, ‘Oh, these are all cops. This must be a dangerous area.’”
In addition, there are vulnerable segments of the population to whom the police are “horrendous”, Valverde said.
“A lot of people who ride the TTC are people who are poor, maybe they have precarious immigration status or maybe they have mental health problems, or for whatever reason, they don’t trust the police in general.”
Restoring and increasing TTC and city staff — all paid less than police — may not be a quick fix to resolve the situation, but is a “no-brainer” given Toronto’s budget challenges , Valverde said.
“I feel like it’s not a difficult thing to implement. After all, my cellphone works in the elevator, in the library, at T K U, so why can’t it work at a subway stop?” Valverde said.
“That will make people feel safer. And a lot of it is actually the feeling of being safe or unsafe, it’s not the statistical likelihood of an attack happening.”
Thoughts: Dive deep case-by-case to analyze what’s really happening
While Stephen Hwang, a physician and St. Michael’s Hospital Chair in Homelessness, Housing and Health, can list some common circumstances that can increase one’s risk factors for violence, he describes Toronto as a condensed string of crimes. Sees – one that should be examined in detail on the basis of assumptions.
To do this, he suggests a multidisciplinary “expert panel” that traces the circumstances of each alleged perpetrator leading up to the moment of violence. (One challenge, he said, would be to protect the rights of those who had not yet faced trial.)
What did his life look like till that day? Have they sought help for their mental health in the past and faced barriers? Did they deal with increased isolation over the years? Were there any warning signs or missed interventions, or did it really come “out of the blue”?
“As a scientist, the first thing you need to do is look for patterns in the data,” Hwang said. “silly.”
In the short term, Hwang said that the continuation Is Significantly, questioning the effectiveness of an increased police presence at the TTC, only to publicly debunk that effort within weeks.
“If you know there’s never going to be a policeman there again, then the deterrent effect goes away.”
Tip: Be smart about policing transit
Think of the subway system as a neighborhood. Study incidents of violence. Slow down enough to collect data to better understand the problem. Then, coordinate security and social support workers to take an intelligence-based approach to the transit system.
Peter Sloly, former chief of the Ottawa Police Service and formerly a deputy chief of police in Toronto, believes the approach – as well as the ability to communicate quickly with passengers and the integrated security presence in tunnels, where phones gets no bar – there would be one good way to effectively deal with what’s on most people’s minds at the moment: security.
Start with data. When you have high profile incidents, but you don’t have the data to understand whether there’s a trend behind it, or what’s really happening, your solutions are “more than a shot in the dark,” Sloley said. Said. Analyze “before going too far down the path of costly or difficult-to-retreat solutions that don’t actually solve the problem or exacerbate the problem.”
For example, 81 Toronto police officers were recently and temporarily spread across a mass transit system. “They weren’t particularly influential because they didn’t have the data,” Sloli said. “They weren’t really deployed in an intelligent way. And so they had minimal impact and a huge cost to the Toronto Police’s operational budget.”
Once an analysis is complete, integrate police, TTC special constables, security guards, byelaw officers and social workers into teams and deploy them where problems exist. Think of it as a “smart on offense” approach, as opposed to “tough on offense,” Sloli said.
Finally, the TTC has to do a better job of mass communication emergencies in tunnels, and security and social workers need to be able to communicate via services such as WhatsApp. None of this is possible without easy or mobile service.
“It’s in those tunnels where the vast majority of the hunting we’re talking about is happening,” Sloli said. “Communication and technology are key to enablement.”
The Idea: A way to call for help on the TTC and provide support for people in distress
Jennifer Chambers, executive director of the Empowerment Council – a Toronto group that advocates on behalf of people with mental health and addictions – doesn’t believe responding with more police or security is the best answer.
“There are times when they are definitely needed, but I think a lot of the time people are on the TTC because they don’t have a good alternative or place,” she said.
Community workers on the TTC need to be able to connect people in need or distress with services, whether it’s housing, treatment or mental health support, Chambers said. If those services don’t exist or lack resources, “the person will just go back to where they were before.”
At this time in Toronto the demand for help far exceeds the available solutions. The measure that falls across all levels of government, he said, “has relatively shallow pockets in the City of Toronto.”
It’s also important, Chambers said, to make sure the public understands that the risk of being hurt or killed on the TTC is still very low. If they become “unreasonably intimidated” into using transit, there will be fewer fares to pay resources to address the problems.
Chambers said — in the short term, it would be helpful for people to have a way to call for help — without pulling the emergency alarm, which she said could escalate situations.
How to stop random violence on the TTC? Seven top experts offer real fixes
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