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Saunders optimistic in year end address, even as gun violence climbs

Last Updated Dec 20, 2019 at 9:19 pm EST

Toronto’s police force is moving in the right direction in its approach to fighting gun and gang violence, the chief said Friday, even as he acknowledged the number of shootings has climbed year after year.

In his year-end news conference, Mark Saunders said the Toronto Police Service has ramped up its efforts in investigating such violence, completing numerous widescale probes and boosting the solve rate for shootings from 13 per cent to roughly 30 per cent.

“Street gang violence is the top priority all the time. But I will say that there appears to be more prevalence of firearms in the city. We are arresting people quite often,” he said.

Saunders particularly lauded a weeks-long operation known as Project Community Space, which began in August and was funded by all three levels of government in response to gang activity.

“When I’m talking about a 15-week period of time and I’m making 463 arrests and seizing hundreds of guns, there’s a message there.”

He went on to say the force’s strategy has evolved over the years, leading to more effective policework.

“In past history, we would blanket the community in officers,” Saunders said. “Some of the communities didn’t like that … so we took a run on being more strategic, knowing who the players are who have no problems putting a gun in their waist and going out and raising mayhem.

“And when we’ve done that, we’ve noticed that there was an increase in our solve rates with the shootings that are occurring.”

A spokesman for the force said there have been 469 shootings in Toronto so far this year, with 732 victims, compared to 177 shootings and 242 victims to the same date in 2014.

Saunders said much of the spike can be attributed to the drug trade, with lethal opioids such as fentanyl being trafficked into the city at unprecedented levels.

“It adds up to dollars – and it’s blood money, because people are getting killed as a result,” he said.