A group of residents in Cabbagetown have resorted to hiring their own private security guard to patrol their neighbourhood amid concerns about a string of break-ins and thefts.

The residents have started a GoFundMe to help raise enough money to have the security guard patrol the area for at least two nights per week for the next six months at a cost of about $10,000.

They say that they have already been testing out the idea since November and that there have no break-ins, thefts, assaults or overdoses reported during the hours that the guard has been on duty.

The residents say that they want the security guard to patrol Seaton, Ontario, Milan, Berkeley and Poulette Streets between Dundas and Shuter streets at night.

They say that the guard will “have the ability to aid people in distress, alert paramedics and/or police, kindly discourage trespassing & loitering, and act as our eyes and ears while we are sleeping.”

Police, however, are expressing concerns around whether the initiative is appropriate.

On Thursday, Interim Chief Peter Ramer told CP24 that 51 Division officers are doing “as much as they can to address” the concerns of residents in the area but he said that it is part of a “bigger issue” that stems from illegal drugs and the need for more community resources in the area, such as supervised injection facilities and better diversion programs.

“We have to have effective programs to help these people and I think that is really the first step,” he said. “Policing is only a component of this. We can only do so much.”

On Thursday afternoon CP24 spoke with several Cabbagetown residents, who expressed concerns about the crime in the neighbourhood.

One of them said that the idea of hiring a private security guard was borne “out of desperation because the city is not listening to us.”

Another said that something had to be done to address the concern of residents who feel increasingly unsafe,

“It is shame that it has come to this,” he said.

Tory says initiative should ‘be approached with great care’

There have been 663 break-and-enters reported in 51 Division so far this year, which covers most of the eastern portion of the downtown core including Cabbagetown.

In a statement provided to CP24, a spokesperson for the city pointed out that there are eight neighbourhood community officers working in 51 Division, which is more than in any other division.

They said that so far in 2020 those officers have responded to 1.8 per cent more calls and have made more than 120 arrests for serious assaults and 30 arrests for break and enters.

The spokesperson said that in 2021 there are also plans to launch two new community safety teams that will be deployed to the downtown east end. One of those teams will be responsible for picking up drug use supplies, including those left on private property. The other will respond to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis in Downtown East neighbourhoods, including south Cabbagetown.

Speaking with reporters earlier on Thursday, Mayor John Tory acknowledged that there is nothing unusual about people hiring security guards to keep a watch on private property but he said that that is “an area that should be approached with great care.”

“We have a police service, they are excellent at what they do. They patrol this area and every other area of the city. They can’t be everywhere all the time but they are certainly very diligent about going about their duties and they are given special responsibilities and special accountabilities in carrying out that work. We can’t have those people replaced by or even contemplated to be replaced by private security guards,” he said.

The GoFundMe has raised more than $2,700 from 15 donors so far.