Residents take to social media over car break-ins

After rash of smashed car windows, Toronto neighbourhood gets proactive

A surge of car break-ins has rocked the St. Clair Avenue West neighbourhood, inspiring the community to take matter into their own hands. The Facebook group for Hillcrest village, Humewood and Wychwood residents regularly sees posts from distressed members reporting  suspicious individuals looking into neighbourhood cars, and, in some incidents, rows of cars with smashed windows.

Simon Strauss, an environmental planner with Metrolinx, is a member of the Facebook group. After noting the increase of posts complaining of car break-ins and smashed windows, Strauss created a custom data map on Google Maps where members of the  community could mark the location and share details of a break-in or vandalism incident. He created the map on Dec. 21. By Jan. 24, he had received 85 incident reports.

“It was after many weeks of seeing what seemed like the same posts … people just asking the same questions over again: ‘How often is this happening and how widespread is it?’ ” said Strauss.

“Facebook groups have made it obvious that it’s an epidemic.”

Suzanne Lejeune lives in the area. After her car was broken into three years ago, she invested in security cameras. Since September she has recorded around 35 instances of people checking to see if her car doors are locked late at night. She posts the videos on the Facebook group.

“The posts and Facebook groups have made it obvious that it’s an epidemic,” said Lejeune.

Strauss admitted his map represents only a small sample of what is actually happening and that incidents should be reported to the police.

The Toronto Police Service (TPS) has an extensive data map on its website where one can view details of reported crimes. The TPS said that community engagement is a “critical component” in policing efforts.

“Technology such as community Facebook groups allow for improved community safety and … information sharing, ultimately increasing citizens’ awareness within their own community, which translates into more crimes being solved,” said detective sergeant Alan Fazeli.

Lejeune has been unhappy with the police responses to petty crime. She believes that communities can better serve themselves by publicly circulating images and information of the suspects.

“We need to… make them as scared and uncomfortable as they have made us feel,” she said. “I’m hoping the exposure and the map demonstrate to them that we know what they’re doing.”