By Kathy McGrath

Centennial News is presenting a two-part interview with 43 Division Superintendent Dave Rydzik. This month we focus on policing issues in 43 Division and, more specifically, in Centennial. Next month, we will look at police initiatives and community partnerships.

After 32 years on the job, you might expect a seasoned Toronto police officer who has seen it all to be a little cynical. If you were referring to 43 Division Superintendent David Rydzik, however, you’d be wrong. Not only is he friendly and approachable, he’s optimistic about the ability of police to form positive relationships with communities.

“Our training has improved greatly and community-centric policing is at the forefront of what we do now,” said Rydzik, who was born and raised in Scarborough. “We want residents to see us as part of the community, not just robotic officers that go out after a crime is committed.”

He encourages local residents to call police if they see something suspicious; it could be a person or a vehicle. “You live here, so usually your spidey-senses are right,” he said. Tips like that can prevent crimes from happening.

Criminals committing break-and-enters, for example, may case a street to see who’s home. “If you see a young person who should be in school knocking on doors in the middle of the afternoon trying to sell chocolates or asking for a friend, that might be concerning,” he said. “A lot of people think, ‘Oh, I don’t want to bother the police. This person isn’t doing anything illegal.’ But we want to be bothered – call us! We’ll figure out if they are doing anything wrong.” Rydzik said it’s easier to investigate before break-ins occur than to do back-end investigations.

Currently, police are focused on two main issues in the Centennial neighbourhood: auto theft and traffic infractions, mainly speeding. Vehicle theft is being conducted by organized crime using sophisticated techniques. RFIs can be copied from a key fob through the front door of the house, then the vehicle is quickly stolen and shipped overseas.

“Every week we are getting 7, 10, 12 vehicles stolen in 43 Division alone and we’re only recovering a couple of them,” Rydzik explained. “If you own a Honda CRV, a Toyota Highlander, a Ford F150 or a Lexus RX350, get a club, because they are the hottest items.”

Traffic safety is another of the top complaints received by 43 Division. “We have some pretty wide-open streets here like Lawrence and Kingston Road and have had serious accidents,” Rydzik said. “Speed equals tragedy when you’re going that fast. We’ve had several fatalities in the last year-and-a-half in your community alone.

‘It’s just as much a tragedy to lose a life to a traffic fatality as it is to gun violence. Accidents are accidents, but if someone is driving recklessly, impaired or distracted, it could have been prevented.” Four officers in 43 Division are solely dedicated to traffic enforcement.

In terms of the larger picture, the biggest challenge facing 43 Division is gun and gang violence. “We have put a lot of resources into it, but it’s sporadic and hard to tackle. There are a lot of guns coming in, mostly from the United States.” 

Gangs come and go as they evolve and change, he said, but the affected areas stay the same. Rydzik said that the Galloway Boys, a gang that was active 20 years ago, is still around as are gangs in the Orton Park area. 

In addition to violent crime, officers everywhere must deal with people who suffer from mental health issues or are in the midst of a crisis. “We apprehend more people under the mental health act every year than we arrest,” he said. When responding to these calls, or those involving drug overdoses or domestic assaults, police can deal with the immediate issue, but are often not the best equipped to deal with underlying problems.

So how does Rydzik’s optimism come into play in the face of societal challenges? He said there has been a significant shift in policing that embraces community outreach and partnerships, particularly as they pertain to people with mental health and related challenges. “We can’t fix this ourselves. We’re never going to arrest our way out of this problem. So having relationships with social service agencies and making referrals to them is key.”

Rydzik has been a proponent of this change, heading up the creation of Mobile Crisis Intervention teams, embracing focus tables and trying to mend fractured relationships in communities that are distrustful of police.