Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders on Wednesday revealed his “intelligence-led” plan to curb gun violence following a spate of shootings, saying new government funding will be used to target street gangs.
The 11-week strategy, dubbed Project Community Space, will begin on Thursday, Saunders told reporters at a morning news conference at Toronto Police Service’s downtown headquarters. The plan will end on Oct. 31 and police will update the public in November about the results.
Saunders said the plan is about prevention and enforcement, and will focus on street gangs, violent crime and weapons offences. He said Toronto needs a collective and holistic approach to combat gun crime.
Chief doesn’t want to turn communities ‘upside down’
“We have listened to our community members who say gun violence and safety concerns are making it difficult to live in, to work in and to enjoy their neighbourhoods,” Saunders said.
“I can tell you the street gang presence is a lot more sophisticated. There are more guns that are in the city. And we have to figure out how to reduce the gun violence, but at the same time, not turn neighbourhoods and communities upside down.”
Saunders said the plan will include monitoring of bail compliance, police involvement in community programs, and increased presence of officers in areas frequently associated with street gangs and gun violence.
“There has to be a deterrent factor if there is someone going to shoot somebody,” he said.
Street gangs in Toronto are involved in the distribution of narcotics and human trafficking and “street gang subculture” is responsible for the majority of violence in the city, Saunders added.
Police need to work with communities to prevent young people from joining gangs in the first place, and from pulling out a gun,” he said.
“People aren’t born to be street gang members. They become,” Saunders said.
Won’t say how many officers will be involved
Saunders declined to say how many officers will be involved, but the effort will be “intelligence-led” and include officers from across the city under the command of the Integrated Gun and Gang Task Force.
CBC Toronto reported Tuesday that the plan will include reassigning 45 major crimes personnel from the city’s 17 divisions to the frontline force, commonly called the guns and gangs unit.
The additional officers will remain with the task force until Thanksgiving, a police source said.
Saunders offered few specific details about the strategy.
“I just don’t want to give up a lot of the playbook,” he told reporters.
This fall, the guns and gangs unit will host 31 crime prevention town halls aimed at educating and supporting families in areas affected by violence and whose children may be at risk of being recruited into criminal organizations.
Police will also work with special constables from Toronto Community Housing. A number of shootings in recent weeks have occurred at buildings owned and managed by TCH, which provides social housing.
Plan follows announcement of government funding
On Monday, all three levels of government announced they would provide Toronto police with $4.5 million to be used to combat gun violence.
Saunders has previously said a recent spike in shootings was mostly gang-related, including 14 separate shootings over a violent Simcoe Day long weekend that left more than a dozen people with gunshot injuries.
The city has seen 267 shootings this year — 20 people killed and 132 injured. There were 55 shootings in July alone have been 32 in August as of Monday.
There have been 19 more shootings in Toronto compared to the same point in 2018, when there were 428 shootings.