A project to boost the police presence on the street in the late summer in response to a spate of gun violence has led to reductions in crime across the board, says Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair, who stresses police can make a difference "when we have sufficient resources."

The Summer Safety Initiative, the goal of which was to improve public safety and to find people who would use guns and contribute to violence on the city's streets, got underway in late July and concluded last Sunday.

Existing police officers were asked to work compulsory overtime, a move that had the effect of deploying the equivalent of 329 additional officers on the street, Blair said at a Friday morning news conference.

Shooting occurrences were down 50 per cent compared to the average from 2005 to 2011 for the same seven-week stretch, said Blair.

There was an annual average of 6.2 shooting homicides in that period for that same stretch of summer, and only two this year, Blair said.

A number of other crime statistics were also down compared to the seven-year average, including the number of thefts, assaults, sexual assaults, break and enters and robberies.

'We have not hired for the last two years'

"The evidence before us reaffirms for me my conviction that cops count," said Blair. 

"And that when we have sufficient resources to deploy into our neighbourhoods, when they are out there doing the job that they need to do, but they are doing it in a way that is respectful and supported by the communities we are out there to serve and protect, together we make a significant difference."

Blair's comments come at a time when the police budget is being scrutinized by the city's budget chief, Coun. Mike Del Grande. Del Grande has asked police for a budget freeze, but Blair has said he can't meet that expectation without reducing staff.

Blair on Friday said police have to work with what they have, even though it is not ideal.

"We have currently 5,400 police officers employed by the service. And that is less than our authorized strength. We have not hired for the last two years," he said.

"And so we’re working hard not only to make sure we deploy those officers appropriately but also we're taking steps within our organization to mitigate the impact of having fewer officers available to us."

Police hope to build on project

Deputy Chief Peter Sloly said officer deployment locations were determined through intelligence from police sources and the community about hotspots for crime. He said result  of the boost was "quite frankly, going back to old school policing," including an emphasis on engaging with communities and walking the beat.

While the project has concluded, Sloly said the police service wants to build on its results.

Sloly said the police plan to "probably" expand the Neighbourhood TAVIS Initiative (NTI), a program where extra officers are deployed into selected high-risk areas.

"We'll put our scarce resources into the best places where they'll develop the best return on that investment," he said.

"We'll continue with staffing redeployments. We're looking at every way we can to move officers out of the buildings and on to the streets."

Getting more officers on the streets could be achieved by realigning shift schedules to be more responsive to communities' needs, said Sloly. The police force also hopes to work more closely with community groups and extend its youth engagement program, which currently only runs in the summer, into the school year.

The project — which was announced partly as a response to high profile fatal shootings on Danzig Street in Scarborough, at the Eaton Centre shopping mall and on a crowded patio on College Street — is expected to cost around $2 million.

A comparison of crime statistics for the City of Toronto from July 26 to Sept. 9 compared to the average for the same period over the last seven years.

Crime Per cent change
Homicides - 62.2%
Shooting homicides - 68.7%
Sexual assaults - 12.8%
Robberies - 17.2%
Break and enters - 27.5%
Auto theft - 53.6%
Theft over $5,000 - 35.7%
Total offences - 28.7%