Gun crime a top police priority in 2009: Blair
Attacking the problem of gun violence in Toronto will continue to be a police priority for 2009, says the city's police chief.
"I am concerned about the number of shooting crimes, because that is the one type of criminal activity that we have seen go up," Bill Blair told CTV Toronto in a year-end interview.
"Although there's been fewer murders in the city, what we've seen is there's been more shooting occurrences."
Toronto police maintain a web page that shows year-to-date shootings. As of Dec. 15, there have been 236 shooting incidents in the city, an increase of 18 per cent over 2007. The number of victims is up to 336, about a 42 per cent increase over 2007.
However, there were 42 shooting homicides by Dec. 15, 2007. This year, 36 of Toronto's 69 homicides to Dec. 15 involved shootings, a decline of 14 per cent. Toronto's 70th homicide didn't involve a shooting.
Blair said his officers "have been working very hard to identify the people responsible for those crimes, getting those guns off the streets, and dismantling the gangs that we know are responsible for so much of the violence."
On Dec. 1, the police -- in conjunction with Henry's Camera -- ended a gun amnesty program that saw about 1,900 firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition surrendered in exchange for a digital camera and photography lessons.
"The people of Toronto really responded well," Blair said.
"We recognize that the bad guys weren't going to turn in their guns, but we know that if we get guns out of the community, that's going to make for a safer community."
Blair has previously estimated that about 30 per cent of the firearms used in Toronto crimes originated with legitimate owners at some point, with another 70 per cent smuggled in from the United States.
However, he also emphasized that Toronto is a safe city.
In a report released July 17, Statistics Canada found that Toronto had the second-lowest overall crime rate amongst Canada's 27 metropolitan areas. Ontario and Quebec also had the lowest provincial crime rates.
To keep the city safe, Blair said police study events that have happened elsewhere, such as the terror attack in Mumbai, India. Only 10 militants were able trigger violence that left more than 160 people dead. Nine of the 10 terrorists also died.
"A bit of a change in tactics for the terrorists in that case," he said, noting they attacked soft targets such as luxury hotels.
"Traditionally, we've looked at hardening the targets for public infrastructure sites, public transportation, but this is a bit of a change in tactics, so it really does compel us to go back and take a good, hard look at our training, our responses, so if such a thing ever came to the city of Toronto ... we'd be able to respond."
Blair's five-year term expires in April 2010.
"This is the best job anybody ever had, and I've got a great team of people to do it, and I still think I've got a little bit of work to do," he said.
If asked, he would be happy to stay on, Blair said.
With a report from CTV Toronto's Jim Junkin
On Sunday, ctvtoronto.ca will have a special report on innocent bystanders who lost their lives to gun violence in 2008