Toronto police boosting presence on city streets

Toronto police will make hundreds of extra officers available for daily deployment during the month of August in response to episodes of gun violence that have rocked the city over the past two months.

Hundreds of extra officers will be available at moment's notice

Toronto police Chief Bill Blair announced details of a new police project that will increase the number of officers being deployed on the streets in August and September. (Michelle Siu/Canadian Press)

Toronto police will make hundreds of extra officers available for daily deployment during the month of August in response to  episodes of gun violence that have rocked the city over the past two months.

Police Chief Bill Blair announced the details of a new project Thursday, which will come into effect after the August long weekend and last until high school resumes in September.

Police are focused on finding the people who would use guns and partake in violence that puts themselves and others at risk, Blair said.

"Our intent is not to overpolice our communities, our intent is to overprotect them," Blair said at a news conference Thursday at police headquarters in downtown Toronto.

More than 300 additional officers will be available for deployment each day, as compared with normal staffing.

Officers are being asked to work longer hours in order to make the staffing increase possible, the police chief said. They will be paid accordingly,  Blair said, but their co-operation is essential.

"We are asking them to dig deep, we are asking them to do more," he said.

The chief said the project will cost about $2 million, which he said would be paid for by reallocating funds from the existing police budget.

'More boots on the ground'

Deputy Chief Peter Sloly said the project will see "more police officers, more boots on the ground," and they will be deployed at will to tackle problems that may emerge.

"Those extra resources can be moved anywhere, any time in the city that requires it," Sloly told reporters at the news conference.

Police will also be targeting criminal activity on transit routes and roads, Sloly said.

"We’re going to be doing extra work on the transit routes, highway and subways," he said. "Officers will be interdicting along those areas to make sure gangs don’t use those routes and criminals don’t use those routes to commit those crimes."

The announcement comes just days after Blair met with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty to discuss tactics to prevent more gun violence.

Ford asked for the meeting following a mass shooting at an east-end community party last week that left two people dead and at least 20 other injured.

The city was already reeling from two other deadly public shootings — one at the Eaton Centre shopping mall and another on a crowded patio in the Little Italy neighbourhood.

This week's talks led the province to pledge $12.5 million in permanent funding for anti-violence programs. But the mayor's request for $5 million to $10 million from the province to hire extra police officers was denied.

‘Not making the neighbourhood safer’

In a part of Rexdale, a neighbourhood in northwest Toronto, an increased number of police have already been out patrolling the streets for weeks.

For the past several years, the Toronto police have sent extra officers into selected high-risk areas as part of the Neighbourhood TAVIS Initiative (NTI).

This year, some of those extra officers have been making the rounds in Rexdale, with the intent of getting out of their patrol cars and getting to know the people who live there.

It was in this same neighbourhood that nearly 30 per cent of the shootings in Toronto occurred last year. Since the NTI arrived in the area in June of this year, no one in the neighbourhood has been shot.

Some people welcome having the police in their neighbourhood.

Tajay Harris said seeing the police out on bicycles and talking to people makes them more approachable.

But not everyone is a fan of seeing more police officers on the street.

"It’s not making the neighbourhood safer, it’s only making people more scared to come outside," said Peter Arthur.

Police will be faced with these same mixed feelings when they beef up their presence in other parts of the city. 

Blair alluded to this divide in his afternoon press conference, saying the police work hard to earn the trust of the public and that they are entering at-risk neighbourhoods with the intention of making them safer.

"I want to assure all of the people of our city, but in particular, those who live in the neighbourhoods where much of this violence is taking place, we are coming in larger numbers to help you be safe," said Blair.

"We will support you and respect you and we will need your help."

With files from The Canadian Press and reports from the CBC's Steven D’Souza and Asha Tomlinson