Civilians in the Ranks

From the Call Box
to laptops

Electricity is one thing that criminals dread. It circumvents all their skill and cunning.” So wrote Philadelphia’s Chief of Police to Toronto's Chief, recommending a call box communication system. Until the call box arrived in 1888, Sergeants sent a message to the officer on the beat by having a passerby relay it!

That “new technology” meant Sergeants could signal Constables by sounding a gong and flashing a red light atop the call box - one flash for the beat officer, two for information for all officers, and three for an emergency.

Modern Police radios, and in-car computers have long supplanted the call box as a mode of communication.


Today, civilians comprise about 30% of the Toronto Police Service. It was not always that way. For years, the service was staffed wholly by police officers. The first civilian was the force doctor, in 1861. After that, civilians were added gradually - three women in 1870 to clean the cells, a matron in 1888 to handle female prisoners, and a stenographer in 1889 to do clerical duties.

Important roles for civilians were created in the 1920s and 1930s, when the service acquired new communications and transportation technology. That required skilled workers, and civilians fit the bill - electricians, phone operators, mechanics, and radio technicians. World War II was another watershed. With officers leaving to serve their country, civilians were hired to fill in the gaps in some support services.

As the police service has grown, so have the civilian ranks. Today, civilians are indispensable to operations, filling key roles throughout the service, staffing many areas such as the Communications Bureau, Fleet and Court Services. While enriching the service, the extensive use of civilians provides a major benefit -ensuring that as many officers as possible are available for street duties.
Who We Are

In the early days of policing in Toronto, crime doesn’t seem serious by today standards. What were the pressing problems for the officers of the 1830s? Speeding horses. Cattle riding down the street. Dogs running at large. Swimming in Lake Ontario. Unlicensed “tippling” houses. And enforcing the rules that the Sabbath be observed as a day of worship and rest.

One way of understanding the increasing complexity of policing in the city is simply by looking at how we are organized today. These are some of the people on the front lines of the police service, the specialists in all aspects investigating and preventing offences, and just some of the people behind the scenes who support them;

  • 17 Divisions (Police Stations)
  • Hold-up Squad
  • Homicide Squad
  • Forensic Identification Services
  • Intelligence Services
  • Parking Enforcement
  • Emergency Task Force
  • Court Services
  • Communications Services
  • Sexual Assault Squad
  • Special Investigation Services
  • Fraud Squad
  • Traffic Services
  • Mounted and Police Dog Service
  • Marine unit
  • Public Safety
  • Community Policing Support
  • Victim Services
  • Bail and Parole Enforcement
  • Fleet & Materials Management

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