Toronto police roll out 11-week program to curb gun violence
TORONTO -- A recent influx of cash from all three levels of government will be used to fund an intelligence-led, 11-week policing project aimed at curbing gang activity in Toronto, the force's chief said Wednesday.
Mark Saunders said Project Community Space, which will begin rolling out this week, will bring additional resources to neighbourhoods that have been particularly hard-hit by gun violence in recent years.
The program -- which will use $4.5 million pledged by the federal, provincial and municipal governments -- will involve officers from across the city, include more efforts to engage with communities, and increase police presence in certain neighbourhoods. Intelligence-gathering efforts will be at the heart of the strategy, Saunders said.
"Because it's intelligence-led, we will understand patterns and trends, where we need to be, and what type of resources will be there," Saunders said, adding the force will be consulting law enforcement experts in gang subculture.
Saunders said the project, which will be fully operational Monday, will roll out on top of what the force already has in place, noting day-to-day operations will not change while the project is underway.
Toronto has been grappling with a rising tide of gun crime that has seen the number of shootings grow in the past five years.
In mid-August of 2014, police had recorded 111 shootings involving 139 victims, which included people hurt and killed.
That number had surged to 248 shootings involving 336 victims as documented on Aug. 11, 2018. On the same date in 2019, police had recorded 267 shooting incidents with 401 victims.
Saunders, who has attributed much of the rise in gun crime to gang activity, also suggested the justice system had a role to play. He said monitoring bail compliance will be another component of Project Community Space.
"Having people more aware of exactly how the bail program works and who gets released and what the conditions are and whether or not there is strong compliance with street gangs and bail is a question that I believe needs to manifest a little bit more," he said.
The chief praised officers trying to tackle the issue with existing resources, saying they'd seized 544 firearms so far this year and arrested 10 people on shooting-related charges last weekend alone.
Several of those arrests were connected to a particularly violent long weekend at the beginning of August, which saw 17 people injured in 14 separate shooting incidents across the city. Police said the majority of those incidents were related to street gangs.
That recent spate of violence prompted Mayor John Tory to request additional resources to support police, a call that culminated in the recent co-operation between the three levels of government.
The city worked with the Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General and the federal Ministry of Organized Crime Prevention to have each level of government contribute $1.5 million a piece to provide extra resources.
Tory said Wednesday that Project Community Space will ensure police can take "immediate action" to help reduce gun violence in the city.
"This initiative will allow officers to immediately focus on street gangs and provide an increased police presence in communities," he said in a statement.