An initiative aimed at curbing gun violence in the city has so far led to more than 500 charges and over 200 arrests, Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders said Monday, at the halfway point of the nearly three-month plan.
Saunders launched Project Community Space shortly after a spate of violence in August that saw 17 people injured in 14 separate shooting incidents across the city.
The initiative’s mandate was to improve community safety amid an uptick in gun violence over the summer, and included measures like better monitoring of bail compliance, enhanced community engagement and an increased police presence in areas hit by gun and gang violence.
The new program — which received funding from all three levels of government, will use $1.5 million from each and is set to run for 11 weeks in total.
The force’s Integrated Gun and Gang Task Force hosted six of 31 planned gang prevention town halls, aimed at educating residents of neighbourhoods most affected by gang activity.
“Being community-focused is a key element of the service’s modernization, and this enhancement has allowed our officers to be where communities need us most,” Saunders said in a news release issued Monday morning.
“The increased visibility of officers in their patrol cars and on foot in areas where street gangs are prevalent has been effective as a deterrent.”
According to the release, of 525 charges laid over the first six weeks of the initiative:
- 35 per cent were firearm-related offences.
- 17 per cent were for failure to comply or breach of conditions.
- 11 per cent were for violent offences, including assault, robbery and sexual offences.
- 8 per cent were for outstanding warrants.
Additionally, 12 people who were out on bail on firearm-related charges were re-arrested, the release said.
Officers conducted nearly 900 compliance checks for those on bail. Saunders added that it is a “big concern” to have people re-offending while out on bail.
“In addition to failure to comply, they faced a variety of new firearm and violence-related charges including possession of firearms which had serial numbers tampered with, possession of prohibited and restricted firearms and assault with a weapon,” the release went on.
Saunders is quoted in the release as saying shooting incidents were down 30 per cent compared to the six weeks prior to the start of Project Community Space.
He also said the program has been “extremely effective” in increasing community safety, gathering intelligence and making arrests.
The city has been grappling with a surge in gun violence that has resulted in a rise in shootings over the past five years. In 2014, police recorded 111 shootings involving 139 victims, either hurt or killed. By mid-August 2019, over the same time period, police recorded 267 shooting incidents involving 401 victims.
The initiative is scheduled to end on Oct. 31.