Residents of the Beach and East Toronto, welcome Superintendent Elizabeth Byrnes, the new Unit Commander at 55 Division.
Byrnes, who has been with Toronto Police Service for 28 years, brings with her a slew of experience, from ‘street beat’ to Communication Services Unit Commander.
A Scarborough native, Byrnes spent most of her early career in the far East End of the city working mostly as an investigator.
With two stints in the Sex Crimes Unit, the second one as a Unit Commander for three and a half years, Byrnes says the investigative side of policing has always been a major part of her career.
Byrnes was heavily involved in investigating crimes such as child exploitation and sexual assault, and dealing with high risk sex offenders.
In the two years prior to her transfer to 55 Division, Byrnes worked as the Unit Commander at Communication Services, where 9-1-1 calls are taken and incidents are dispatched to front line police officers.
“It was an awesome job. It really gave you a different insight,” said Byrnes “My time there really gave me a good chance to see the backend infrastructure that supports what goes on in the rest of the city. I learned a lot about process and a lot about the great work they do there.”
Byrnes is excited to inherit some of the initiatives put in place by her predecessor, Superintendent Frank Bergen, and Inspector Greg Cole, with whom Byrnes worked in 52 Division several years ago.
“I really think that they have started some …changes in how we do the policing side of things, with our Community Response [Unit] and with our investigative groups working together,” she said.
Byrnes said that 55 Division has made a commitment to utilize all their resources to solve all crimes, big and small, by having all units communicating with each other in more efficient ways.
To most citizens, any crime is a big deal, and Byrnes wants to ensure that response time and communication with victims of the more minor occurrences is done in a timely manner.
“If your wallet gets stolen from [your] car, it’s beyond just an annoyance, it’s an intrusive invasion, and we are structured now so that we can do some really in-depth analysis of where things are happening, and we can start focusing our resources and patrols in those areas,” said Byrnes. She praised Bergen and Cole for building that backend system within the division.
Byrnes is also appreciative of citizens who call and report crime, making policing the division more efficient. She credits that to the awareness strategies implemented by the division, such as its Facebook page, and the reporting of crimes by local media including Beach Metro News.
“I hope to build on that,” says Byrnes, who is keen on improving the processes that deal with lower priority calls. “I want to improve customer service…I don’t want to have somebody waiting hours and hours and hours for us because it’s a lower priority call. It’s not low priority to them.”
Byrnes admits she has always been impressed with 55 Division for not only for its staff, but for the diversity within its borders. That includes the businesses, community organizations, and the neighbourhoods.
“It’s where I personally go to go out for dinner, to socialize – it’s in this area,” said Byrnes. “It is so dynamic and so diverse.”
With such diversity within the division, Byrnes explained the importance of recognizing neighbourhoods that are in more need of support than others – although the City has not identified any of the neighbourhoods in 55 Division as ‘Priority Neighbourhoods’. She is hoping to bring together various support organizations and community agencies with key staff at 55 Division to better serve the community.
“Some could call it a hub-type model,” said Byrnes, “where the police isn’t just calling those agencies, but the police as one of the agencies is sitting down together and talking about what’s going on in certain neighbourhoods, even certain individuals who need some assistance, and then make sure those services are wrapped around those individuals [and neighbourhoods].”
Byrnes will also continue her involvement in the development of a Child and Youth Advocacy Centre, a central facility where groups come together to investigate and solve child physical and sexual abuse, as well as to offer support to victims and their families.
With discussion evolving on the merger of 55 and 54 divisions, Byrnes reaffirmed the importance to conduct reviews which analyze the different options so that the area’s policing can be “more effective, more efficient and more streamlined.”
She stressed that financial efficiencies would be made only at the top levels of command and would not have a large impact on the front line officers on the road.
Byrnes has already attended her first Community Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) meeting, in which a new executive was elected.
“We have a really good Community Police Liaison Committee,” said Byrnes “There’s a really good representation from our community agencies.”
She also encourages citizens to participate in the CPLC.