Having just taken the reins, new 55 Division police Supt. Elizabeth Byrnes has already come up with a set of priorities including increasing communication with residents and helping to bring her division further into the digital age.
Byrnes is a veteran of Toronto Police Services, having cut her teeth in 43 Division before moving to 42 and 41 divisions.
She began working with the Sex Crimes Unit in 1999, working her way up to detective sergeant in 2001. From there, she became an inspector at 52 Division before returning to the Sex Crimes Unit as a staff inspector.
From February 2012 until she took over as superintendent of 55 Division from outgoing Supt. Frank Bergen in January, Byrnes was the superintendent and unit commander of Communication Services with the police.
When the opportunity arose to apply for her current position, she jumped at it.
“This was a great opportunity for me,” she said. “I’m an east-end person, so this is an area I frequent and socialize in.”
She added, however, that it is also a great division, serving a diverse group of residents who are already connected and keep each other in touch through Facebook, Twitter and other social media.
“One of my goals is to try to connect to the residents,” she said. “There are always great opportunities to connect with residents through the media, but by expanding our social media (presence) we’ll be able to blast messages out right away.”
Byrnes, who was born and raised in Scarborough, noted that ramping up communication was especially important with a number of new condos going up in former industrial areas in the division. Unlike residents in the cozy, single-family neighbourhoods in 55 Division, condo-dwellers are often more likely to keep to themselves.
“One of the best crime prevention tools we can have is neighbours knowing neighbours,” she said. “We want to get people to know each other and take ownership of their neighbourhoods.”
Byrnes added her predecessor was strong when it came to community mobilization, something she hopes to continue with the help and support of the officers at the division.
While she has only been on the job since January, Byrnes already has a good idea of the challenges police face in 55 Division. She pointed out that crime is low in the area, but there are some definite trends.
“There are a lot of thefts – autos or things from people’s property,” she said. “I want us to drill down into who’s doing these types of crimes.”
She added that property crimes usually occur due to an underlying issue and she wants to root out what that issue could be, whether it might be drugs or some other social factor.
“We’ve had the occasional drug seizure, but I’m not aware of any sort of big systemic or identifiable areas to focus on here just now,” she said.
Though a newcomer to the division, Byrnes has already connected with it, making her all the more dedicated to ensuring it gets the policing and support it needs to reduce crime.
“It’s a really great neighbourhood with great people,” she said. “I’m really enjoying and looking forward to my time here.”