$250K to help Peterborough, Lindsay police fight gang crime, human trafficking in community housing

Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith congratulates members of the Peterborough Police Service special victims unit during a funding announcement Tuesday at the police station. Dave Smith/Twitter

The province of Ontario is providing Peterborough police and its partners with more than $250,000 for a project to tackle gang activity in community housing.

Peterborough-Kawartha MPP Dave Smith made the announcement on Tuesday, noting the $253,050.50 is part of the province’s announcement on Aug. 6 of $6 million over the next three years to help combat gun and gang crime, human trafficking and sexual violence.

Read more: Ontario announces $6M investment for projects combating gun violence, human trafficking, sexual and domestic violence

The funding is through the Proceeds of Crime Front-line Policing Grant, which repurposes funding forfeited during criminal prosecutions.

Smith said the Peterborough Police Service will partner with the Kawartha Lakes Police Service in Lindsay for a new project to tackle housing unit takeovers (HUTS). The police services will partner with the Canadian Mental Health Association, FourCast, Kawartha Lakes Housing and Peterborough Housing.

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“Public resources such as community housing should never be used for criminal activity,” Smith stated. “Community housing is a critical component in ending homelessness and should be available for the law-abiding families who need it.

“This investment will create the framework for preventing, investigating and responding to takeovers of housing units,” he added.

Peterborough police deputy chief Tim Farquharson said the service is grateful for the provincial support and funding to allow the service to “better serve our community.”

“Specifically using profits of crime to invest in local communities across Ontario to improve safety and well-being is critical,” he said.

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Farquharson said the project will help identify how gang activity is “undermining our efforts” to end homelessness and support the most vulnerable to stay housed.

“We look forward to releasing more details of how this project will roll out in the coming weeks,” he said.

The project will include multi-sector training with police, housing and other partners to better understand HUTS, how to prevent it and how to respond once it has occurred.

Public education will also focus on new tenants to increase awareness as part of the preventing strategy and to improve reporting on the issue of gang activity in community housing.

Special Victims Unit

During Tuesday’s press conference, Smith also provided members of the Peterborough police’s special victims unit with certificates of appreciation, noting their particular work in child luring and child pornography which to date this year has led to 15 arrests.

Launched a year ago, the unit which investigates crimes related to human trafficking, child exploitation, elder abuse, domestic violence, sexual violence and harassment.

“The work done by the special victims unit — going out and finding these predators and taking them off the street — they are making a positive difference in our community,” said Smith.

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Det. Sgt. Josh McGrath, a member of the unit, noted the province provided $2 million last December which has helped enhance investigations.

Read more: Ontario providing nearly $2M for Peterborough Police Service’s new special victims unit

“These investigations we undertake in human trafficking and internet and child exploitation are extremely difficult and often involve criminals who have a very intimate knowledge on online and social media platforms,” he said.

“And it requires quite an investment from us in technology and covert operations. Without (this) assistance, we would not be able to do the job that we do and keep victims safe.”

McGrath said since the coronavirus pandemic, investigators have noted more offenders are turning to social media platforms to access victims.

“So a lot of our investigations moving forward will focus on those avenues,” he said.

So far in 2020, the special victims unit has conducted 121 investigations into internet child exploitation versus just 58 in 2018 prior to the unit’s creation. An additional two officers are expected to be added to the unit in January 2021.

“In terms of human trafficking prior to the establishment of the SVIU, most of it was reactive,” said McGrath. “We’d get information from officers on the road who came across investigations but there was very very little proactive investigations to identify or protect victims and now we are able to do that.”

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