Project to curb gun violence 'successful' despite rise in shootings, police say

Toronto police say a program intended to curb gun violence was "successful" even though shooting incidents in the city have continued unabated this year.

Police arrested 463 people, laid 1,145 charges, seized 247 guns through Project Community Space

Supt. Steve Watts, spokesperson for the Toronto police's organized crime enforcement, says Project Community Space was 'successful' despite a record number of shooting incidents in the city this year. (Camille Gris Roy/CBC)

Toronto police say a program intended to curb gun violence was "successful" even though shooting incidents in the city have continued unabated this year.

Officers arrested 463 people, laid a total of 1,145 charges and seized 247 guns during Project Community Space. The 15 week project, which began this summer, received $4.5 million in funding, $1.5 million each from the federal, provincial and municipal governments.

Supt. Steve Watts, spokesperson for the Toronto police's organized crime enforcement, told reporters on Friday that Project Community Space has made a difference. Watts, however, acknowledged that more needs to be done to address gun violence associated with street gang activity.

"Our children aren't born gangsters. That's not a biological imperative. I suggest it's heavy environmental conditioning," he said at Toronto police headquarters.

"Education, prevention, intervention, suppression — it all has to work hand-in-hand. There's no simple solution to this."

The program was launched by Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders on August 14 after a spate of shootings. The program's aim was to improve community safety through such measures as better monitoring of bail compliance and increased community engagement.

Friday's news conference came as Toronto continues to grapple with deadly gun violence. As of Sunday at midnight, police recorded 457 shootings incidents involving 699 victims.

Two Toronto police officers investigate after a shooting at a Toronto Community Housing Corporation complex on Humber Boulevard, near Weston Road and Black Creek Drive, in early September. Police sealed off the courtyard and playground area after they found blood at the scene. (Jeremy Cohn/CBC)

Watts said police were able to increase their uniformed presence in high risk areas, of which he said the city's northwest sector was one.

"Officers with specialized investigative experience were redeployed to form a more robust response and comprehensive investigative approach to shooting incidents across the city... This project was successful."

Project include bail compliance checks, town halls 

Of the 463 people arrested, 97 people were out on bail for firearm-related charges. Sixteen were charged with new weapons offences, while 81 were charged with other offences, including robbery, assault with a weapon and sexual assault.

Watts said police conducted 2,392 bail compliance checks and 88 offenders were found to be not complying with their bail conditions. A total of 46 of the 88 were arrested.

Of the 1,145 charges laid, 28 per cent were firearms-related, he added.

A Toronto police officer stands near a vehicle that was shot at on Thorncliffe Park Drive. Two people were injured in the shooting. As of Sunday at midnight, police recorded 457 shootings incidents involving 699 victims. (Jeremy Cohn/CBC)

As well, he said police have also held 17 out of 31 planned gang prevention town halls. The remainder will be held in December and early next year.

"These are aimed at educating and supporting families who live in the high risk areas affected by street gangs and whose children are at risk of recruitment," Watts said.

Watts said communities need support from police and agencies to prevent children from turning to gangs.

"By the time someone is 16 or 17 years old and decides to pull out a gun and shoot me in the chest — there's a lot of water under bridge that's happened to that date," he said. "The reality is, it will be the community that will end up assisting us to solve these shootings."

All funding for project now spent

According to Watts, the program has involved the deployment of frontline and specialized officers working under the direction of the integrated gun and gang task force.

The program was scheduled to end on Oct. 31, but was extended four weeks to allow police to continue to respond to gun violence through the program. Watts said all of the funding for the program has been spent.

The police service would ultimately like the "enhanced investigative response" used in the program to be become permanent, Watts added. 

"We are developing a sustainable and more robust strategy to address gun violence with an approach that is proactive, preventative and response focused, to keep our communities safe," he said.