After 75 arrests and more than 1,000 charges, will Toronto street crime actually take a hit?

After carrying out one of the largest raids against a criminal organization in Toronto's history, police admit that many of the arrested suspects will eventually turn back to a life of crime.

Arrests won't be enough to permanently reduce crime, community organizers and crime experts say

Donald Belanger, acting inspector of the Integrated Gun and Gang Task Force, stands over a haul of weapons, drugs and cash seized in Project Patton. (CBC)

After carrying out one of the largest raids against a criminal organization in years, Toronto police admit that many of the arrested suspects will eventually turn back to a life of crime.

On Friday, police announced they would lay more than 1,000 charges against 75 people connected to the Five Point Generalz, a street gang with a violent history based in Toronto's west end.

"There are absolutely people that serve their sentence… and chose to return to a life of criminality," Donald Belanger, acting inspector of the Integrated Gun and Gang Task Force, said Friday.

The Five Point Generalz were the target in a series of raids early Thursday. Police seized 78 firearms, $1.2 million worth of drugs and $148,000 in cash in the operation, dubbed Project Patton.

Investigators said the arrests include the major figures at the head of the organization. But will the raids make a permanent dent in violent crime?

Will new members, groups, fill the void?

University of Toronto criminology professor Scot Wortley doesn't think so. 

In the immediate aftermath of large scale arrests, Wortley says crime often dips before eventually rising again.

That can be the result of new criminal groups filling the void left by the outgoing gang, leading to increased violence as they fight each other for control.

Toronto police seized 60 of the firearms from the trunk of a car travelling from Cornwall, Ont. to Toronto. (Paul Smith/CBC)

"Unless you address the root causes of crime ... it's almost like classic job vacancy," said Wortley.

He says even the experience of going to prison can backfire for the accused who are eventually convicted.

"You can get people who come out more hardened with respect to their commitment to a criminal lifestyle," Wortley said.

University of Toronto criminology professor Scot Wortley says crime can eventually increase after raids like Project Patton (University of Toronto)

Project Corral

The history of the Five Point Generalz seems to support Wortley's observations, as the group appears to have successfully recovered from a major blow against it more than eight years ago. 

In 2010, Toronto police went after the very same gang in an operation called Project Corral, arresting 98 people, seizing 10 firearms and a variety of drugs.

Thirteen of the people arrested in Project Corral were arrested again in Project Patton.

"Of course it's frustrating, but we're not naive," said Belanger about the repeat offenders. "We know that not everyone that goes through the correctional process comes out rehabilitated. That's just the reality of it."

Of the 75 people now facing charges, 68 of them have prior criminal records, Belanger added.

Toronto police say the suspects arrested in Project Patton will have access to rehabilitation services designed to help people transition out of gang life.

Real solutions elusive

In the neighbourhood where the Five Point Generalz were known to operate, community organizers reacted to the raids with a call for more help.

"When men come through our doors, the three biggest things they're asking for are employment, housing and mental health, and they're in pretty desperate situations," said Ed Gough, Jr. of the Young and Potential Fathers Initiative at Ujima House.

His organization provides mentorship and support to young black men in the area of Weston Road and Lawrence Avenue West.

West end community organizer Ed Gough Jr. says young men need better access to jobs, housing and mental health services. (Paul Borkwood/CBC)

"One of my mentors says for many young men, it's easier to get a gun than a job," he added

To reduce the prevalence of street gangs and organized crime, Gough says it will take more resources and funding for organizations that help people in his community find stable work to support their families.

Demand for those services is growing, he said, while the resources to support them is not.

"I visit men not only at the centre but also in prison, and a lot of them don't have a lot of hope," he said. "And when hope is gone, they get desperate."

About the Author

Nick Boisvert

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Nick Boisvert is a reporter and one-man band video journalist based in Toronto. He previously worked for the CBC in Vancouver, Windsor and Kitchener-Waterloo. When he’s not chasing politicians or driving to a crime scene, Nick enjoys cooking, comedy and following the NBA.