Toronto police enact overnight shift changes for officers to tackle rise in gun violence
“This plan will include adding more frontline resources during certain days between the hours of 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. when most of the gun violence takes place across the city,” Chief Mark Saunders said during a news conference Thursday morning.
WATCH: Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, alongside Mayor John Tory, announced a new gun violence reduction plan on Thursday
The new initiative, which affects around 200 officers and will cost up to $3 million, will begin July 20 and continue for an eight-week period.
“Our focus during this time frame will be intelligence led with the intention of not saturating the neighbourhoods, but to have our police officers focus on the very few who are motivated to access and to use guns across the city,” Saunders said.
The chief said the shift changes will affect police stations across the city, but the enforcement plan may change to focus on certain neighbourhoods once officers gain an understanding of the scope and concentration of the gun play.
“Right now it’ll start off across the city, because across the city we have different stories to be told. We have different cases to be solved,” Saunders said.
“As we move on throughout the eight-week process, the ability to be flexible and nimble, and focusing if necessary resources in specific places, we’ll modify to that.”
VIDEO: Toronto police taking strategic approach to gun plan, not flooding neighbourhoods with cops
Toronto Mayor John Tory said the officer shift change is just one aspect of a multi-pronged approach to reduce the level of gun violence in the city.
“We know that the safety of our city rests not just in being tough on crime or enforcement in the communities,” Tory said.
“It also depends on communities being relentless in addressing the causes of crime. I believe we must be doing all that we can to prevent someone from joining a gang and picking up a gun.”
Tory said the city has put forward an application to the federal government to bolster crime prevention and youth programs at a cost of $12 million.
VIDEO: Tory to seek more money for community programs to reduce crime
Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack told Global News it was “good” that the mayor and chief have acknowledged the “resource issue” but that he will be talking to the chief in regard to getting some clarification as to how exactly this new initiative will work.
He said it isn’t clear as to where the 200 officers will be coming from but that he understands most will come through “callbacks and overtime.”
LISTEN: TPA president Mike McCormack reacts to the plan to deploy more resources
The association will be monitoring the eight-week program because there is concern about the “officers and civilians that are already working to the max.”
Though he is encourage, McCormack said the announcement isn’t an “I told you so moment.”
“It’s not about saying ‘I told you so.’ My goal is to do what’s right for our membership and what’s right for the city of Toronto. As a resident, as somebody who has family in the city of Toronto, I want to live in safe city and I want our officers and our civilians who do a great job everyday keeping the city safe, to be safe.”
Toronto police statistics posted on the service’s website, which reflected all shootings between Jan. 1 and the end of Sunday, said there were 212 shootings. By that point in 2017, there were 188 shootings. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, there were 94, 155 and 191 shootings, respectively.
Of the 53 homicides between Jan. 1 and the end of Sunday, 26 victims were fatally shot. During the same period in 2017, 17 victims were fatally shot.
The topic of gun violence in Toronto came up during a meeting between Tory and Ontario Premier Doug Ford at Queen’s Park on Monday.
“We share a commitment to stopping the gun and gang violence so all people feel safe in their neighbourhoods,” Tory said in a statement released after the meeting.
Last week, an email to Tory from veteran officer Mark Hayward made headlines after he criticized Tory over gun violence. It called him a “direct contributor” to the shootings by supporting “the cancellation of the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) program.”
“You flip-flopped on carding and supported its demise. You forced budget and staffing cuts on the Toronto police,” read the email.
Hayward told Global News on Thursday that he wrote the email as a concerned citizen, but noted he had more than 30 years of experience as a police officer. He would not comment directly on the email, but said he stands by it and wrote it with public safety at heart.
Saunders subsequently said the letter triggered a professional standards investigation. In a statement on Friday in response to the email and concerns about gun violence, he said the service has been working to address the issue.
“Our focus will continue to be on enforcement while we work cooperatively with city hall and all levels of government on the role they can play addressing issues that contribute to violence and developing appropriate responses to those who chose a criminal lifestyle,” he wrote.
“We have always kept the lines of communication open to anyone, especially members of the Service, with valuable points to share and we have made adjustments to our strategy as a result. It has been very clear to us throughout this process that there is not one solution to these very complex issues.”
— With files from Caryn Lieberman
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