Toronto police will deploy a new traffic enforcement team to crack down on dangerous drivers and protect pedestrians in the wake of a spike in traffic collisions that have killed dozens of people.
The measure was approved Thursday at a meeting of the Toronto Police Services Board as part of the city’s Vision Zero plan — a five-year initiative aimed at reducing traffic-related deaths and injuries. So far this year, around 50 people, mostly pedestrians and cyclists, have died in collisions on Toronto roads.
The new unit will include two teams of four working a day and evening shift Monday through Friday, all on overtime. It will cost $1-million to deploy for the first year, and is expected to be on Toronto’s streets as early as January.
Mayor John Tory, who sits on the police services board, told reporters Thursday he’d like to expand the team if it proves effective at reducing fatalities.
“If it’s something that’s going to help save lives then I’m in favour of doing it every year, not just this year and not just on overtime,” Tory said.
There was a similar police unit in place in Toronto between 2003 and 2012. During that time, officers handed out 125 per cent more traffic tickets than in the previous decade, and the number of collisions decreased by 24 per cent. After it was disbanded, the number of collisions rose from 55,000 to 80,000 per year between 2013 and 2018.
Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders, who proposed the new team, told reporters that reducing collisions and fatalities has to be a collective effort and police are only a part of it.
“There are things that law enforcement can do and other things that we need to do from education, that awareness piece, and a cultural shift,” Saunders said.
Police and the city have faced plenty of criticism about what many advocates see as inadequate protections for pedestrians and cyclists.
Brice Topher, a bike courier who received minor injuries when he was struck by a van three years ago, says he welcomes Thursday’s announcement, but he’s skeptical.
“I feel like the situation on the road has become more dangerous since Vision Zero has been in place,” he told CBC Toronto, adding that many drivers are “acting in ways that endanger everyone,” such as running red lights, turning illegally and driving through intersections in dangerous ways.
“So I think it really depends on the application. There has to be really a true enforcement of the laws.”