Blue Line

A new era in neighbourhood policing

The Toronto Police Service (TPS) has developed a neighbourhood policing program that is increasingly enabling the delivery of core community policing in the context of a new cyber/social/digital reality. Some of our best front-line officers have been trained on social media, equipped with BlackBerry smart phones and deployed into the city's most safety challenged neighbourhoods. TPS cops are now "walking Toronto's street beats and the virtual beat!"

Social media and web enabled technology has changed public safety and policing in Canada. Internet enabled radicalization has caused a few Canadians to commit acts of domestic terrorism. Canadian youth are increasingly being victimized by cyber-bullying and all Canadians are more at risk of falling victim to cyber-crime. Did Sir Robert Peel anticipate these public safety issues? How do we do core policing in such a complex, changing and challenging environment?

Core policing seems simple. It's community policing, as mandated by the Police Service Act, including preventing crimes, assisting victims, maintaining order, responding to emergencies and enforcing laws.

January 2, 2015  By Peter Sloly

Toronto has 2.7 million hyper-diverse residents who live in 140 neighbourhoods, each with its own unique challenges, assets, geography, demography, history and social justice issues. The Greater Toronto Area is one of the world’s largest consumers of social media and largest producers of social media applications. Police are only beginning to realize how much the Internet age, cyber space and virtual networks affect neighbourhood activity and community safety.

This isn’t just happening in “the Big Smoke” – it is taking place in small, medium and large police jurisdictions right across our great country!

Neighbourhood Policing

Simply put, the TPS Neighbourhood Policing program is community policing implemented at the neighbourhood level. It includes elements of evidence-based best practice gathered internationally and implemented locally by professional dedicated TPS members in consultation with community partners. I give special credit for the success of the concepts to a large and growing list of progressive police agencies, including London Met, Prince Albert, Waterloo Regional and Salt Lake City.

Credit is also due to innovative police leaders such as Sir Robert Peel, Philadelphia Commissioner Charles Ramsey, Cornwall Chief Dan Parkinson and Dutch National Police Chief Inspector Ell De Jonge. Other references may be made to leading academic researchers, including professors David Kennedy (John Jay College), Phil Goff (UCLA), Don Tapscott (University of Toronto) and Sara Thompson (Ryerson University).

Each of Toronto’s neighbourhood teams include hand-picked, high performing front line officers who are dedicated to a single neighbourhood for a minimum of two years. Their primary responsibilities are to preserve the peace, prevent crime and reduce victimization by using community relationships, neighbourhood assets, human sources and police business information systems, along with their new social media skills/equipment, to be more truly intelligence led and citizen focused in their activities.

The teams prioritize most of their day to day efforts on preventing crime. Risk focused enforcement is still a critically important part of their public safety tool kit but it’s not their first choice, nor their last resort. We know we can’t enforce our way out of the problems we face. That is why the neighbourhood teams increasingly attempt to appropriately address public safety risk issues through non judicial channels by using local community partnerships and pre/post charge diversion programs and other innovative local community partnerships like the multi-agency “hub” service delivery program in the Rexdale neighbourhood of 23 Division.

The social media training and agency issued BlackBerry smart phones allow the neighbourhood officer teams to better communicate and coordinate their activities within the team, with other divisional officers and amongst all the neighbourhood teams across the city. The Blackberry phones allow them to access support from supervisors and other TPS units while still remaining on their neighbourhood beats.

The neighbourhood teams can surf the World Wide Web on their Blackberry phones to access real time open source social media information about local events, provide crime prevention information to local neighbourhood stakeholders and/or participate in problem solving partnerships on line with local community members using Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Foursquare, LinkedIn, etc.

In a city as diverse and as interconnected as Toronto, some neighbourhood issues are impacted by global events which require neighbourhood officers to have broader networks and more effective information sharing with communities of interest across the city, province, country and even around the world. Tech enabled, social media savvy neighbourhood officers are able to create a positive presence felt in both the real and virtual world!

The new social media tools and skills of our Neighbourhood officers have directly contributed to some of our best front line policing initiatives. They have helped prevent gang violence, gather criminal intelligence, solve major investigations and educate the public on a variety of emerging safety risks. Perhaps most importantly, they have provided much needed improvements in public trust and police legitimacy in neighbourhoods right across Toronto.

Future policing

Social media and mobile Internet enabled devices are not a panacea for all the challenges facing policing. Good policing still requires good cops to work with good people to solve real community safety problems in their neighbourhoods! But social media and technology are increasingly impacting our society as a force for both good and bad. We need to ensure our officers are in the best position possible to use social media and mobile technology as a both a force multiplier and as a cost reducer.

Neighbourhood policing’s greater emphasis on crime prevention and diversion can also potentially reduce both the financial and social costs of policing. While a critically necessary element in effective community policing, enforcement is also the most expensive. It increases premium pay costs (overtime, call backs and off duty court), downstream judicial costs (disclosure, trials and prison) and the social costs to communities who feel they are sometimes over policed and under served. An ounce of prevention (plus a healthy dash of social media enabled neighbourhood policing) is worth more than a pound of cure!

The TPS has put a greater priority on core community policing by dedicating more of our most scarce and important resources to the neighbourhood policing program – our officers, our budget and our time. We have significantly improved the capacity of our neighbourhood officers to use social media and leverage technology to help them reduce crime and improve community relationships.

I’m sure if Sir Robert Peel were alive today he would appreciate the complexity of the job faced by today’s cops. He would recognize the innovative ways in which the police and the public are now working together using social media. He might even Tweet out his #9Principles!

The neighbourhood policing program is just one example of how the TPS is continually striving to improve the delivery of core community policing. There are many other amazing examples of how Canadian cops use social media, issued mobile devices and local community partnerships to improve public safety, public service, public trust and public value.

Cops and community co-producing public safety – serving and protecting on both the neighbourhood and digital beats!


Toronto Police Service Deputy Chief Peter Sloly has worked in a wide array of policing activities during his 26 years of service and is currently in charge of the TPS Community Safety Command. He oversees 4,000 officers and 200 civilian members covering 17 police divisions. Contact: or through Twitter: @DeputySloly.

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