Toronto

Toronto police beefing up guns and gangs unit in effort to curb shootings, sources say

Additional officers will be added to Toronto police's guns and gangs unit as part of an effort to combat a surge in gun violence in the city, multiple police sources told CBC News on Tuesday

45 major crimes officers from 17 divisions being assigned to frontline unit

Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders faces mounting pressure to curb gun violence in the city. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Additional officers will be added to the Toronto police guns and gangs unit as part of an effort to combat a surge in gun violence in the city, multiple police sources told CBC News on Tuesday

Forty-five major crimes personnel from 17 divisions will be re-assigned to the Integrated Gun And Gang Task Force on Thursday, a source said. The additional officers will remain with the guns and gangs until Thanksgiving, the source added.

Details of the plan are expected to be announced publicly by Chief Mark Saunders later this week, sources said. 

The moves come amid a rash of gun violence in recent weeks, including 14 separate shootings over a violent Simcoe Day long weekend that left more than a dozen people with gunshot injuries. There were 55 shootings in July, Toronto police statistics show.

The city is on pace to record its highest number of shootings in a single year since 2004.

Speaking to reporters last week, Saunders said that recent shootings "by and large have street gang connotations to them," and that police are working to "shift" their gun violence strategy. He said the new approach will place a stronger focus on street gangs, but did not provide any further details.

On Monday, all three levels of government announced they would provide the Toronto Police Service with a combined $4.5 million to help tackle gun violence in the city. Sources have told CBC News police will use some of that that money to fund the expansion of the guns and gangs unit.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said the funding was meant to "support police efforts to keep communities safe," as well as to curb street-gang activity.

A police source said that the coming boost to the guns and gangs unit was in the works before the funding was announced.

Amid a high number of shootings that plagued the city last summer, Toronto police deployed 200 additional officers to patrol selected neighbourhoods during the night shift. Despite the boost in police presence, the effort seemed to have little effect on the overall number of shootings during the period of increased deployment.

The force simultaneously rolled out a revamped neighbourhood policing strategy aimed at strengthening relationships with communities.

Saunders has repeatedly said the police cannot "arrest our way out of" the city's ongoing problem with gun violence. 

Toronto has has seen 267 shootings this year — 19 more than this same point in 2018, which saw a total of 428 shootings.

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