In response to growing calls for an increased police presence across the city, chief Bill Blair announced staffing changes on Thursday that will allow him to deploy hundreds more officers around the city, including during one of Toronto’s marquee events — the Caribbean Carnival parade.
Blair outlined a compulsory overtime program for his officers as part of his summer safety initiative. The longer shifts mean resources can be stretched farther during the busy summer months.
The chief said there will be hundreds of extra officers available for the Caribbean Carnival parade on Aug. 4. The event is among the city’s largest public parties, with organizers planning for a crowd of up to one million people.
Up to 456 officers will be available to patrol the downtown core during the busy weekend, while an additional 350 officers will be assigned solely to the parade.
“Police will be significantly present, working with the event organizers,” Blair said.
The staffing changes will also address calls for a stronger police presence in neighbourhoods plagued by gun violence. Those calls grew even stronger after a recent spate of fatal shootings, including the city’s worst such incident on Danzig Street in Scarborough.
In order to get more officers on the streets, Blair will again be asking officers to work longer hours starting on Aug. 6 and running through until Sept. 9.
The mandatory OT will mean up to 329 officers will be available on any given day for neighbourhood patrols to “restore a sense of safety,” Blair said.
The extra OT will cost the force about $2 million — cash that’s already been set aside in the budget.
“I want to acknowledge my officers. We are asking them to dig deep. We are asking them to do more. We’re asking them to work longer hours and to make the effort that is required of them to ensure the safety and the sense of safety in all of our communities,” Blair said.
Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack said he was concerned about “burnout” but said there would be no resistance from officers.
“Our members are very professional and dedicated and they…will do whatever is required to put an end to this violence,” he told CityNews.
“It doesn’t mean our officers are happy about sacrificing family time and personal time in the middle of the summer and working mandatory overtime, but as I said we will do what’s required to stop the violence.”
“We are always worried about burnout with our officers, but we will not refuse the overtime, we will do what’s required, we follow our collective agreement.”
Deputy Chief Peter Sloly said up to 200 community and youth engagement programs will continue throughout the summer across the city.
Sloly said the force responded to increased violence in the city’s northwest corner earlier this year by placing 60 additional TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy) officers in the area.
Project Post came in the wake of the Eaton Centre shooting, he added — an initiative focusing on four communities by “locking up the bad guys” and “focusing on our high-potential youth.”
All of the force’s 17 divisions are on the same page when it comes to a plan to combat gun crime with highly-visible uniformed officers in neighbourhoods dealing with high rates of violence.
Audrey Campbell of the Jamaican-Canadian Association also spoke at Thursday’s news conference. She said her group has been at the table trying to work on solutions with police, the province and the city.
“Our goal, in all of this, is to ensure the safety of our community,” she said. “We also want to ensure that the social programs that can prevent this type of violence from happening in our community is also implemented.”