Constable Tony Vella was the special guest at Centro de Língua Portuguesa –Instituto Camões in Toronto to discuss personal safety and community policing. Vella spoke to a room of local residents representing all age groups.
Director Ana Fernandes-Iria invited Constables Vella and Scott Mills at the centre's first town meeting. Toronto City Councillor Ana Bailao also took the time to take part in the event.
Mills and Vella both work for the Toronto Police Service and go out on their own time to community events like tonight's to help build a bridge between the police and Toronto residents. That bridge building helps not only give residents more knowledge on how to protect themselves but can actually reduce crime through increased awareness.
Vella started the discussion by talking about residents knowing what division is in their area in times of crisis. Many in Toronto don't know which police division is the one for where they live, as was seen with several of the members of the audience. Having a relationship with local police can help residents know what to do if a crisis does arise. Many also were unsure of when to call the main number for their division or when to call 9-1-1.
"Call 911 when there is an emergency and do not walk away if possible," Vella advised, adding that if a person is in danger by being in the area that they should put their safety first.
Texting and driving is another danger that was discussed.
"It's not a right to drive, it's a privilege," Vella said, "If you see someone doing something that could be endangering traffic calling the police could save lives."
Toronto Police Services Constables Scott Mills and Tony Vella speak to community about personal safety and community policing Monday night at Centro de Língua Portuguesa - Toronto & Luso Learning Centre.
Drinking and driving can cost you over $50,000 Vella warned saying that the cost of the arrest is just the beginning. A conviction can result in being fired from a job, increased insurance rates and in a worst case scenario another person's life.
One important issue that was discussed is what happens when a person witnesses a crime. Far too many people do not report incidents that they observe, fearing that the criminals could harm them.
"Witnesses have fears and the police understand that. The police will protect you, be strong and don't walk away. Your information can be the key to solve a crime," Vella said.
It's true that people can be released before their trial date, it is the way the courts rule not the decision of the police said Vella. The police do their best to make sure that suspects are not endangering others while they await their court dates.
Domestic violence is a problem in Toronto and elsewhere. This type of violence happens everywhere and ethnic communities are not immune. Report crimes that you hear. Letting someone know that you are dealing with violence can be an important first step.
"Be aware of what is going on in your neighbourhood, if you notice that something is wrong alert the police. It's your neighbourhood, you want to feel safe living there," Vella said when discussing how criminals look for ways to enter your home to take your personal belongings. Maintaining your yard and making sure that lights work and simple steps such as having a radio playing when you're not home can help keep thieves away.
Ethnic neighbourhoods often fear that they won't be able to communicate with the police. Vella and Mills let the audience know that language is not a barrier when it comes to being safe as the service has several officers who speak various languages. There may be a slight delay to get the right person but there will be someone sent you can communicate with. In an emergency you will have fast service, just like a person who speaks English or French.
There were several younger members in the crowd tonight learning about how to be safe. Vella and Mills both stressed that bullying should never be tolerated. Standing up for yourself and telling someone is the first step to stopping someone else from making you a victim. Don't let the bullies win with your silence.
Another important issue was the fact that cars are being broken into all the time in Toronto. The perfect target for these break ins are when items are left out on car seats in parked areas. By leaving your stuff on the seat, which several in the crowd admitted that they had done in the past, you are giving the criminals all the stuff they need to break into your house later.
"When a criminal steals that purse you left on the seat of your car while you run into the store has your personal information. Your purse holds your keys. When a criminal steals these items they have all they need to go to your home and take your hard earned personal items," Vella said adding that simple steps can protect you and your property from becoming a criminal's stuff.