In July 2021, Toronto City Council adopted SafeTO: Toronto’s Ten-Year Community Safety and Well-being Plan in response to new requirements under the Ontario Police Services Act (EX25.4). The Plan requires the City and its partners to shift from a reliance on reactive emergency response and enforcement to a culture of proactive prevention by driving 26 actions across seven strategic goals.
SafeTO advances actions in the following areas:
Rationale: The mental health system has long since reached its capacity, is underfunded and under resourced, resulting in people with mental illness not receiving the supports they need and falling into distress.
Actions: The implementation of the Toronto Community Crisis Service pilots provide 24/7 alternative to Police response to mental health crisis.
Rationale: Community violence – including gun violence, gender-based and intimate partner violence — has been on the rise in Toronto and was declared a public health issue by the Toronto Board of Health in 2019.
Actions: The development of a comprehensive gun and gang violence reduction strategy through the creation of a Toronto Office to Prevent Gun Violence and better support for community residents through increased capacity for the Community Crisis Response Program and community investments.
Drive Collaboration and Accountability
Rationale: The majority of community safety issues require co-ordinated tools, resources, and mandates across sectors, to drive collaboration and increase accountability.
Actions: City Council adopted 36 decisions and the Toronto Police Service Board approved 81 decisions on policing reform and implementation of the SafeTO Collaborative Analytics and Learning Environment a multi-sector data centre to leverage data from health, police, education, housing, academic and community sectors to inform real time decisions.
Updates on the SafeTO Implementation Plan are provided to City Council, the Toronto Police Service Board, and the Toronto Community Housing Board, including recommendations to those decision bodies to support implementation.
The implementation of SafeTO priority actions are currently in progress, such as:
The City has secured funding for ongoing implementation of the BRAVE Hospital-based Violence Intervention Program at Sunnybrook, which has expanded to new locations at Humber River and Scarborough Health Network, and for the St. Michael’s Hospital THRIVE program.
Under the Ontario Police Services Act, 1990, all municipalities were mandated to adopt a Community Safety and Well-Being Plan by July 2021. A provincial framework guides municipalities to broaden their understanding of safety and centre the well-being of individuals, families and communities through long-term strategic actions. Growing evidence calls for proactive, multi-sector responses guided by a unified vision and a set of agreed upon priorities.
Over the past two years, Council has adopted the ten-year SafeTO plan and its implementation beginning with the launch of four Community Crisis Support Services Pilots providing an alternative community response to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.
The Reconciliation Action Plan includes a section on Improving Community Safety and Well-being which aligns directly with SafeTO’s commitment to advance truth, justice and reconciliation by advancing Indigenous-led community safety and well-being priorities. This includes responding to the calls for justice from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. For example, the Toronto Community Crisis Services Pilot includes an Indigenous Agency responding to the needs of Indigenous communities. In addition, the SafeTO Collaborative Analytics and Learning Environment is part of the City’s Data for Equity initiative, which ensures that Indigenous data is gathered, analyzed and shared across appropriate institutions to inform real-time policy and program development that meets the needs of the diverse Indigenous communities in Toronto.
Considering how poverty, anti-Black racism, racism and other structural inequities impact risk factors associated with safety and well-being (i.e. inequitable access to resources, exposure to violence, grief and loss, or lack of quality affordable housing), this means that every resident does not equitably participate in Toronto’s opportunities. Furthermore, a siloed approach to community safety can result in an over-emphasis on enforcement has been shown to perpetuate the over-representation of Indigenous, Black and equity-deserving communities in the criminal justice system.
Protective factors (i.e. education attainment, financial stability or social support networks) can help prioritize the actions that will have the most impact in bringing about a safer Toronto. SafeTO is leveraging the Equity analysis tools to inform the development and implementation of SafeTO priority actions. SafeTO is also engaging communities facing multiple barriers to create authentic opportunities to co-design and participate in decision making.
Denise Andrea Campbell
Executive Director, Social Development, Finance and Administration