Toronto temporarily adding front-line police in bid to combat deadly shootings

Toronto will add more front-line officers during peak hours for gun violence for the remainder of the summer, the police chief and mayor announced Wednesday.

Mayor also committed to 'significant and immediate investment' into community programs

In June, police seized dozens of firearms from alleged members of a North York street gang in raids that police Chief Mark Saunders said were partially motivated by growing public fears about gun violence. (Paul Smith/CBC)

Toronto will add more front-line officers during peak hours for gun violence for the remainder of the summer, the police chief and mayor announced Wednesday. 

About 200 additional officers will be deployed on patrols during the hours of 7 p.m. and 3 a.m., the window during which most shootings occur in the city. 

The move is part of a new, $15-million "gun violence reduction plan" that comes in the wake of a spate of high-profile and brazen shootings. 

The program will begin next Friday and run city-wide for eight weeks. Operations will be "intelligence-led" and will focus on "major players when it comes to gun play" in the city, Chief Mark Saunders said. He added that there at least 1,000 people that police hope to keep tabs on. 

About $3-million will be used to fund the enforcement component of the plan. 

Saunders said there will be "continuous and ongoing evaluations" throughout the effort to ensure it is being carried out effectively.

"This is not about turning communities upside-down, that's not the intention," he said. 

Mayor John Tory also committed to a "significant and immediate investment" of up to $12 million into existing city programs focused on keeping young people out of criminal lifestyles.

He said part the plan is to "flow money into communities where we know there are youth who need support." The city has been in discussions with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to ensure the funding will be immediately available. 

Tory added that he will continue his push for tougher gun laws and that he expects the province to increase its funding support for certain police measures. 

The pair unveiled the plan at a morning news conference at police headquarters downtown. 

The new strategy was developed against a backdrop of a surge in gun violence, some of which has occurred in busy areas during daytime hours.

In late June, for example, 11 people were shot in a one-week period.

That stretch included the deaths of two men in the 20s with deep ties to the city's hip-hop scene. The next day, four people were shot on a bustling afternoon in Kensington Market, one of whom later died.

Shortly before that, a North York woman was shot to death while sitting with friends in a parked car in what police described as "a case of individuals coming from one neighbourhood in the city to another neighbourhood and shooting the first residents they see."

Saunders and Tory have come under increasing public pressure to address the violence and clamp down on the flow of firearms onto Toronto's streets.

Last week, a veteran police officer penned a letter to Tory in which he partly blamed the mayor's policies for the rash of shootings and called Saunders a "puppet on the strings" being pulled by city hall.

The influential Toronto police union has also taken aim at the brass, arguing that the force's modernization push has limited officer's ability to police gang members.