Toronto

Toronto police chief believes he still has confidence of officers amid gun violence

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders weighed-in Wednesday on the force's struggle to curb gun violence in the city and his ongoing battle with the union over staffing levels.

'There are a lot of people who are hungry for this change,' Mark Saunders said of modernization

Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders was on Metro Morning on Wednesday. (CBC)

Toronto's police chief believes he still has the confidence of his force despite growing criticism from the police union and some officers amid a spate of gun violence in the city.

In an interview with CBC Radio's Metro Morning on Wednesday, Mark Saunders said that his handling of the service's modernization effort has not led to a reduction in officers on patrol during the critical five-hour window between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m., when most shootings occur. 

Staffing levels within the police service has become a hot-button issue in recent months, with the police union maintaining that officers have lost the ability to be "proactive" in their policing 

And late last week, a veteran police officer penned a letter to Toronto Mayor John Tory in which he blamed Tory for cancelling the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) in 2016, which the author says deprived police of a crucial tool in keeping violent street gangs at bay. 

The officer also referred to Saunders as a "puppet on the strings" being pulled by Tory. 

When asked by host Matt Galloway if, given the letter, he feels he still has internal support to carry on with reform efforts within the service, Saunders was blunt.

"Yes I do," he said. 

"I can tell you on a daily basis I am getting a lot of feedback, a lot of positive feedback. There are a lot of people who are hungry for this change. The problem is that there are some people that, a) do not understand where we are going and why we're going there: and b) everyone has more platforms for a voice," Saunders continued.

You can listen to the full interview below.

"What I'm not going to do is, I'm not going to run an organization based on angry emails, or text or tweets or things along those lines."

His further breakdown of the number of frontline officers came in response to claims from a union executive that reduced staffing levels have directly contributed to a deadly summer in Toronto. 

In his own interview with Metro Morning, Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack repeated the claim that Toronto has lost 450 officers in the last 18 months. 

But Saunders pushed back on that assertion, saying that some 245 officers are on patrol in about 125 vehicles during those peak hours for violence. 

"That number has not changed since 2013, 14, 15, 16 and 17."

Earlier this week, Tory accused McCormack of co-ordinating the release of the letter critical of himself and Saunders. 

Tory said the union has actively resisted attempts to revamp the force's shift schedule, an issue that some say could significantly curb ongoing staffing and enforcement issues. 

According to Saunders, a revised strategy to further clamp down on gun violence in the city will be revealed in the next few weeks. 

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