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Toronto police force launches initiative to combat gun violence using federal money

FILE -- Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders speaks at a news conference in Toronto on Aug. 14, 2019. (Source: CityNews Toronto)

Saunders said the initiative will focus on street gangs, reducing violent crime and firearm offences

“Project Community Space” will be begin Thursday and run until Oct. 31.

TORONTO (680 NEWS) – Toronto’s police chief, Mark Saunders, has unveiled $4.5 million in immediate funding that will be used to launch an 11-week initiative called “Project Community Space” to fight gun violence.

The federal, provincial and municipal governments have previously said they would be providing immediate funding to Toronto police following the recent rash of gun violence in the city. Toronto has seen a major spike in shooting or shots fired calls in recent years, with 14 recorded in a three-day stretch in early August alone.

“Project Community Space” will be begin Thursday and run until Oct. 31. Saunders said the force will provide an update in November on the program’s outcome and continued plans to help fight gun and gang related violence in the city.

The program will include officers from across the city under the centralized command of the guns and gangs task force and will be intelligence-led.

“Because it’s intelligence-led, we will understand the patterns and trends, where we need to be and what type of resource that will be there,” Saunders said at a news conference on Wednesday. “So it’s a multitude of different layers all included, but it is based on additional resources on top of what we have already.”

Saunders said the initiative will focus on street gangs, reducing violent crime and firearm offences.

“We have listened to our community members who say that gun violence [raises] safety concerns to live in, work in and enjoy their neighbourhoods,” says Saunders.

It will include proactive monitoring of bail compliance, more engagement with the community and community programs, and increased presence and visibility in neighbourhoods frequently associated with street gangs and gun violence.

When asked whether he believed there was too much leniency in the court system when it comes to bail for firearm-related offences, Saunders said, “I’m not sure what a viable excuse is for giving someone bail that shoots somebody.”

Saunders also mentioned at least two instances in which people out on bail or probation for firearm-related offences have become victims of gun violence

He added there needs to be a stronger deterrent factor to shooting someone, but says: “This plan is addressing the now and building out with the partnerships, so we can figure out how to slow it down. People aren’t born to be street gang members.”

This fall, the Toronto Police will be holding 31 gang prevention town halls aimed at “educating and supporting families who live in areas most affected by gang activity and whose children may be at risk of recruitment by gangs in their neighbourhoods.”

The townhalls will be held by the Integrated Gun and Gang Task Force and will be separate from the new funding.

The number of shootings in the city has increased significantly since 2014. There were 113 shootings that left 141 people hurt by mid-August that year, compared to 267 shootings with 401 victims at the same time this year.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said gun control will become a campaign issue as the coming election looms, but has yet to detail the Liberal plan.