55 Division has a new police superintendent, but Peter Yuen is no stranger to the area.
“When I first came here I never thought I would occupy this office,” he said from his desk, looking out onto Coxwell from the station at the corner of Dundas Street East.
Yuen began his policing career as a new recruit on a unit in 55, which covers the area from the Don River to Victoria Park Avenue, and from Danforth down to the lake. He was posted to the division twice more, as a staff sergeant in charge of the community response unit and again as an inspector. Most recently he was unit commander in 54 Division, directly north of 55.
“This division has changed drastically. This is now one of the most diverse divisions in the city,” he said. “In ’87, this is what I would call a rough and tumble division.”
While the East End used to be home to a number of rooming houses and drinking establishments with less-than-stellar reputations, the relentless forces of gentrification have seen a shift to more families in the area. Calls to the police are now most often for property crime – vandalism and break and enter – or traffic and parking issues.
“If these are the problems we’re facing, we’re in pretty good shape,” said Yuen.
The East End is now home to some of the biggest events in the city, drawing tens or even hundreds of thousands of residents from across Toronto and beyond. The Beaches International Jazz Festival, the Beaches Lions Easter Parade, fireworks on Victoria Day and Canada Day – all of these entail special challenges for police. To Yuen, the key is finding the right mix of enforcement and proactive programs.
One of those programs, which he is proud of helping set up while in 54 Division, is the Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT), which serves 55 as well. The program pairs specially trained officers with mental health nurses, and was set up in partnership with Toronto East General Hospital. The team steps in when police are called to deal with emotionally disturbed people in crisis.
“Politicians, police, health care and the community came together to bring us the MCIT. It was a real ‘wow’ moment,” he said.
Though the previous two superintendents were only posted in 55 Division for a short time, Yuen hopes to be here for at least two years. Some of the changes he’s hoping to implement involve a state of mind, he said, and that takes time.
One of Yuen’s top priorities is “customer service.” He believes a good relationship between his officers and the public creates a situation where the community helps the police do their job – which is to help the community.
Good customer service to Yuen means officers who listen, deliver on promises, apologize if they make a mistake, communicate, have a willingness to help and follow up.
“If we do these things right, everything else will fall into place,” he said.