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Making communities safer one scholarship at a time

group of people at the fscs scholarship celebration

Photo taken at the 2020 Faculty of Social & Community Services Scholarship Celebration.

From left: Martin Douglas, Police Constable, Toronto Police Service; Dimitri Tsianos, Toronto Crime Stoppers Police Coordinator, Detective, Toronto Police Service; Beatrice Ashley, 2020 Paragon Security Scholarship Recipient and PSI Graduate; Adrian Pacheco, 2020 Toronto Crime Stoppers Scholarship Recipient and PSI Graduate; Sean Sportun, Chair, Toronto Crime Stoppers; and Katrina Franczak, Director, Toronto Crime Stoppers.

For Sean Sportun, engagement, collaboration, and trust are key to keeping communities safe and resilient. These observations didn’t come easy to Sean but were built over years of working as a security officer, trying new opportunities, and, finally, carving a path where he could do the right thing while helping as many people as possible along the way.

A knack for finding trouble

“When I first started out, I wanted to be a police officer,” says Sean. But his career took a turn when he landed his first job as a security officer at Canada’s Wonderland. After spending two weekends in uniform, Sean was quickly promoted to the retail unit doing undercover work at Canada’s largest Theme Park.

“I’ve always seemed to have a knack for finding trouble or being at the right place at the right time,” he says. Dressed in plainclothes where he could blend in with the public, Sean quickly honed a natural skill for uncovering thefts, noticing distressed individuals, and anticipating physical altercations simply by observing people’s mannerisms.

Sean quickly advanced within the private security industry before becoming Chair of the Toronto Crime Stoppers volunteer Board of Directors. It was at Toronto Crime Stoppers when Sean helped create one of Humber’s first scholarships for students enrolled in the Protection, Security and Investigation (PSI) diploma program – the Toronto Crime Stoppers Scholarship. The scholarship is given each year to a student who displays positive leadership qualities by promoting community safety and creating positive change through volunteer work.

“People just wanted to do the right thing”

Sean’s idea for the scholarship stemmed from his work at Toronto Crime Stoppers, where they reformatted the Toronto Crime Stopper’s anonymous Submit-a-Tip Line in January 2020. “Before, if anyone called in with information, they would be paid a monetary reward for their tip,” says Sean. However, after conducting some market research, Sean and his team found that over a 10-year period, only 17% of tips were actually picked up. “There could be a number of reasons for this,” says Sean, suggesting that the tipster could have misplaced their unique tip number, be incarcerated or that they simply preferred to remain anonymous and help solve crime in their community. After speaking to community stakeholders about what would truly motivate them to call Crime Stoppers, the reasons he received suggested that “people just wanted to do the right thing.”

Shortly after, Toronto Crime Stoppers replaced their individual reward payouts with a Community Reward Program that channels funding efforts back into the communities they serve across Toronto. The program focuses on enhancing community safety and empowering a movement of a crime-free Toronto with initiatives such as the Humber scholarship program, revitalizing community playgrounds, or after-school programs. “The perception became, ‘Hey, you’re helping my community, so now I’m going to try to clean up my neighbourhood’,” says Sean. The new forward-thinking strategy now has the mission statement: Doing the right thing is its own reward – See It. Say It. Stop It.

“Scholarships bring both prestige and financial support for students”

Today, Sean has brought a similar approach to GardaWorld, where he is currently the Vice President, National Accounts and Community Engagement. More recently, he helped establish the GardaWorld Scholarship of Excellence awarded annually to Humber students in the PSI and Police Foundations Diploma programs.

“The scholarships bring both prestige and financial support for students,” says Daniel Schwartz, Professor and Program Coordinator, PSI Faculty of Social and Community Services. “A lot of the students are coming from pretty disadvantaged backgrounds and may not have a lot of family support or they are working part-time or even full-time jobs.” Daniel also emphasized that industry names associated with the scholarships are a great resume-builder. “It recognizes all the hard work the student has put in and it’s a really nice award that would attract prospective employers.”

At the forefront of security and law enforcement in Ontario

Humber’s PSI diploma program is at the forefront of security and law enforcement in Ontario. The Program Advisory Committee (PAC) comprises of industry professionals, in which Sean was a member for many years. PAC helps ensure the curriculum remains current and relevant to sector needs. “Many educational institutions in Ontario focus on traditional security and law enforcement practices,” says Daniel. “Humber’s program is geared partly in this direction but also towards private security and civilianization of traditional law enforcement roles.” Daniel emphasizes that students graduating from the PSI program today have the option of being hired as a civilian or as a police officer. Another area of growth is the private and corporate security industry. “Most big corporations have a security department where, for example, threat assessments are conducted on travelling executives,” says Daniel.

“The more that people get involved, the safer it is for the community”

Sean, who has worked in the security industry for over 30 years now, looks back and says, “The path that I took may not have been the more traditional one, but it ended up being the most ideal. I’ve been provided some great opportunities in my career, like leading a humanitarian effort in 2005 in response to the devastation from Hurricane Katrina, travelling to Amsterdam to lecture at an international conference on crime prevention or having Harvard University’s School of Business published two reviews on my approach toward retail crime prevention. I never thought that would be possible.”

His advice to students today? “Learning doesn’t end once you graduate - always be a student to the game and advance yourself. Understand the importance partnerships play in enhancing community safety and strive to get involved. The more that people get involved, the safer it is for the community – for your friends, your family, for everybody.”