Toronto police officer embodies the concept of community policing
October 7, 2019
Investigated and arrested by Toronto Police on several occasions, Dale Swift had every reason to steer clear of law enforcement.
Raised in the challenged Chester Le community, a few of the officers’ interactions with community members, however, caught his attention. He observed that some of them took the time to engage residents and that made a huge impression on him.
“As the cops came in and out, I watched relationships between a few of them and the community grow and develop and I liked that,” he said. “I realized that they were not there just to enforce the law, but also to help build community relationships.”
Becoming a Toronto police officer a decade ago, Swift embodies the concept of community policing that was recognized with the Robert Qualtrough Memorial Award presented on September 11 at the Service’s awards ceremony at police headquarters.
Qualtrough, who served with distinction and honour during his 34 years with Canada’s largest municipal police organization, died in October 2014.
Established three years ago, the award is presented annually to Service and community members who have demonstrated excellence and leadership through their participation in an innovative and effective police-community partnership initiative.
With his lived experience growing up in Toronto Community Housing and knowing some of the challenges that young people face in those communities, Swift is committed to helping youths through leadership conferences and workshops on gun violence.
The 33 Division officer also created a youth mental health group, ‘BeYouTH, and uses social media to showcase the positive work he’s doing.
“If you are not connected and committed to your community, your job as a police officer is that much more challenging,” Swift said. “The vast majority of people in communities really want to see us and engage with us and are willing to help. There are many officers in the Service who are doing really good work in the community, but they don’t get the recognition. As much as I am honoured to be the recipient of this award, it also says a lot of about Toronto Police that we are trying to get it right and we have officers who are willing to go above and beyond while on and off duty.”
Inspector James MacKrell nominated Swift for the award.
“This award is basically for making partnerships to help communities through communities,” he said. “Dale embodies that. He doesn’t go out looking to make connections with others. They now come to do that with him. He has brought all the resources he has to help him improve the neighbourhood he polices.”
Often, Black students are told by teachers that they wouldn’t amount to anything. It’s even worse when a parent says that to their child.
Constantly told by his Dominican-born mom that he would be a failure in life, Swift used that as motivation to abstain from gangs.
“I remember sitting in my basement and thinking this was an easy life because that’s what the guys involved in gangs made it look like,” he said. “However, I didn’t want to take the chance because I wanted to prove my mother wrong. If I got into trouble, I knew she would say, ‘Look, see what I mean’. On the other hand, my father was out of the picture and I tried very hard to overachieve to prove to him that I was worth his love. Those things, ironically, helped me stay on the right track.”
Swift also got good advice from a neighbourhood gang boss.
“I was around gang members because we all played basketball,” he noted. “One day, one of the principal drug dealers, who was an excellent basketball player, pulled me aside and said, ‘Swift, I don’t want you getting involved in this stuff you are surrounded by’. I don’t know why he did it, but I thanked him.”
To escape the northwest Scarborough neighbourhood plagued by gun and gang violence, Swift’s uncle assumed his guardianship and he moved to St. Brother Andre Catholic High School.
The one year he spent at the Markham school was very challenging.
“I was defiant and always in the Principal’s office,” Swift recalled. “I was going through a lot of stuff and things weren’t good at home.”
Barely just passing Grade Nine, he switched schools, enrolling in Father Michael McGivney Catholic Academy High School.
That’s where a school administrator took an interest in Swift and helped turn his life around.
“Having people believe in you helps to change a person’s algorithm,” said Swift. “Many young people today have this thing about where they think their lives are heading. No matter what happens in their lives, they feel they are destined to not do well until someone is willing to challenge that algorithm and show them something different.”
Summoned one day to the Vice-Principal office, the first question I asked was ‘Why am I here?’ ‘So just to let you know that we know about you and the things that occurred at Brother Andre’, was her response.
“I was thinking, ‘Here we go again’,” said Swift. “But then she said she didn’t believe all the stuff she heard about me and she wanted me to prove to her that I wasn’t what was being said about me. That was the first time that someone gave me encouragement.”
After graduating from high school, Swift spent three years at Fleming College where he was a key part of the school’s basketball program and a season at Algonquin College where he helped the team win a provincial championship. The first team All-Star in his first two seasons was inducted into the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2007.
Swift was encouraged to join policing by his cousin, former Canadian Football League wide receiver Grayson Shillingford Jr., who was with Peel Regional Police before joining York Regional Police.
Shillingford, who was on the National Football League (NFL) Seattle Seahawks practice roster in 1996-97, is the son of late West Indies fast bowler Grayson Shillingford who resided in the Greater Toronto Area for 24 years after retiring from first-class cricket in 1979.
“I did a lot of work around mental health from ages 18 to 32 before becoming a police officer,” said Swift. “I am very close with my cousin who told me he thought I would make a good cop. I didn’t think so, but I took his advice and am so happy I did.”
Because of the intervention programs he runs for young people that have helped forge bonds between the police and the community, Swift is trusted by the many citizens he interacts with.
About two years ago, he was able to avert a fight at a subway station after being alerted by students.
Swift has also helped to identify suspects accused of robberies and even murder.
Nearly a year ago, homicide investigators released the image of a suspect wanted in connection with a fatal shooting in a Scarborough parking lot.
“As soon as I saw that photo on television, I said I think I know who that is,” said Swift. “A few hours later, I got a call from the Community Outreach worker at Parkway Forest and Oriole Community centres saying, ‘Did you see the news?’ Right away, I knew the person police was looking for was Amal Jones who played basketball at Parkway Forest and was someone I had talked to a few weeks earlier.”
About two hours after he was identified, Jones turned himself into police and was charged with second-degree murder.
Married for 10 years, Swift and his wife have an eight-year-old son.