By TOM GODFREY
Officers from Minneapolis joined their colleagues from Toronto Police in an exchange to observe policing in the Somali community that is experiencing a rising school dropout rate and the unsolved deaths of dozens of young men.
Two U.S. Somali-speaking officers were here as part of a Toronto-Minneapolis Officers Exchange Program that held a conference for police and the community last Saturday in Rexdale.
About 140 people attended the “Policing in the Somali-Canadian community: a Dialogue”, that was opened with a recital from the Quran and remarks by Deputy Chief Peter Sloly and Alok Mukherjee, Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board.
Minneapolis Police Dept. Sgt.
Adullahi, in a keynote address spoke about the trials and tribulations he had to undergo to become a cop. There was also a panel discussion moderated by community activist Idil Burale that featured perspectives by youth, the police and parents.
This is the second exchange between members of a Toronto Police Somali Liaison Unit and U.S. officers. The Minneapolis force has launched a successful pilot project in which Somali speaking officers were hired to spearhead a community policing program.
The U.S. and Toronto officers spent four days last week training and meeting with members of the Somali community in the Dixon Rd., Islington Ave., and other areas of Toronto. There are an estimated 100,000 Somalis living in Toronto.
Sloly said the program began after he visited Minneapolis in 2012 and met with Chief Janee Harteau in light of the gun and other violence that was taking place in the Somali-Canadian community in Toronto.
“There were increasing levels of distrust and generally poor communication between the local Somalian community and police,” Sloly told Share in a statement. “Like Toronto, Minneapolis has a large and growing Somalian community with unique social justice needs.”
He developed a Somalia Outreach Program that was part of the 2012 Summer Safety Plan to address the gun violence from the Eaton Centre and Danzig St. shootings.
Sloly said the liaison unit, with a sergeant and four constables, were dedicated to working in the community and that led to reduced crime in the area. Unit officers attend local mosques for prayers and take part in school homework and mentoring programs.
Police are also working with groups like Positive Change, which is made up mostly of mothers of slain Somali youth, who want to make their community a safer place in which to live.
Burale, a co-founder of Positive Change, said the group has been working since 2012 to end gun violence in Toronto.
“It (the conference) was a great success and it exceeded our expectations,” Burale told Share. “The Minneapolis officers did a great job in sharing their experiences with us.”
She said attendees included politicians and staff from the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services.
Burale, a social worker and former candidate for Ward 1 in the last municipal elections, said the community is concerned about the mostly-unsolved murders of their young men. She said more than 50 young Somalis have been killed in Ontario and Alberta since 2005.
“Deaths in the Somali-Canadian community in particular have been disproportionally affected by this scourge,” she said. “In 2012 alone, 18 per cent of homicides in Toronto involved Somali-Canadian men – six alone were killed between June and October.”
The group has a good dialogue with officers of 23 Division, who patrol the Dixon Rd. area. Burale said the Division lacks resources and Somali-speaking officers who can interact with the community.
Her group is only aware of three Somali-speaking officers on the force, including one who graduated from Police College earlier this month.
“There has to be more Somali-speaking officers on the force,” Burale told Share. “Our community is suffering because our young men are being incarcerated or killed.”
She said a large amount of Somali youth are dropping out of school and ending up incarcerated. Burale believes more can be done by police.
“Gun violence has had a disproportionate toll on members of the Somali-Canadian community and there is an absence of trust between residents and local police,” said Burale.