TORONTO – Toronto plans to add 200 frontline officers to the night shift over the summer in an effort to reduce gun violence, the city’s police chief said Thursday while the mayor promised new funds for community programs to help at-risk youth.
The announcements from Police Chief Mark Saunders and Mayor John Tory come as the city grapples with a string of recent shootings, including several in busy areas.
Saunders said the additional officers who will be on the job between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. will be sent to areas that need them, and noted that neighbourhoods will not be saturated with police.
“It’s about being focused and strategic in our deployment,” he said. “This is not about turning communities upside down. That will never be the intention.”
As of Sunday, there were 212 shootings in the city this year, with 26 people killed, according to police. In 2017, there were 188 shooting resulting in 17 deaths by this time of the year.
The police force knows who the major players are when it comes to gangs, and officers will work with communities on “intelligence-led” efforts to combat gun crime, Saunders said.
The chief also noted that the policing approach will be different to similar officer increases in the past.
In 2006 more police were deployed to neighbourhoods that saw crime increases under the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS), which was criticized for unnecessarily stopping people of colour. That officer increase came after 359 people were shot, with 52 killed, by the end of 2005 — the year that Toronto experienced the so-called “Summer of the Gun.”
“The difference between then versus now, it’s not just about the enforcement entity, it’s about the preventative pieces and the rehabilitation,” Saunders said. “You don’t police with one template and say this is what the entire city needs to do.”
The new officers will be in place by July 20, with the increased staffing lasting for an eight-week period, Saunders said. After that, police will re-evaluate their needs, he said.
The staffing change is expected to cost up to $3 million, with the funds coming from the province, Saunders said. A spokesman for Ontario’s Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services said Premier Doug Ford’s government has made a commitment to restore funding for anti-guns and anti-gangs initiatives and to ensure police have resources they need.
In total, $15 million — a mix of funds from all three levels of government — has been earmarked for efforts to curb gun violence in the city, said Tory, noting that some of the money will go to community programs aimed at preventing youth from joining gangs.
“We will flow money into communities where we know youth need help and support,” Tory said, noting that funds will go to organizations with proven track records. The mayor cited YouthWorx, a program by Toronto Community Housing that employs young people in various fields, as one potential funding recipient.
Tory said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale have assured him that federal funding is available for programs.
Toni Morra, a support worker at Birchmount Bluffs Neighbourhood Centre, welcomed news of funding for community programs, as well as the increase in officers, but said police heading into neighbourhoods would need to be engaged in community development.
“What youth really need from the city and from police is less judgement, and more interactions and understanding around mental health,” she said, adding that police and the city need to follow through on programing and initiatives.
Meanwhile, the For Youth Initiative in Toronto’s west end expressed concern about the increase in officers, saying it was worried the move could lead to youth being unfairly targeted.
“If there are more gangs, it’s because there’s a lack of community resources for them to take part in, in the summer,” said Elena Gordon, the organization’s youth justice case lead who educates youth about their rights when dealing with law enforcement and the justice system.
Paul McKenna, a professor at Dalhousie University who has worked as an advisor for the Toronto police in the past, said that more officers is rarely the best solution to curb crime rates. It’s purpose is to quell public concern about safety, he said.
“Smarter responses to crime do not begin with a flooding of patrol officers,” he said in an email, adding that planning, intelligence gathering and working with a community in a meaningful way are more effective.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version incorrectly said the new officers would be in place on June 20.