Toronto's top cop, Chief Bill Blair, has declared a new front this summer in his force's war on gangs in the city.
In what's otherwise been a year of record lows in Toronto crime rates, the new epicentre of gang activity is 12 Division, the region bordered roughly by Lawrence Avenue, Caledonia Road, Dundas Street West and the Humber River. This tiny swath has had nine homicides so far this year, up from four in 2008 - a number that at the time was considered high. A 10th homicide, 18-year-old Jarvis St. Remy, occurred just over 12 Division's border, bringing the neighbourhood total to 10.
Superintendent Brody Smollet, head of 12 Division, calls it "unheard of." The 10 deaths are one-third of Toronto's total, and twice the number of nearby Jane-Finch, which often earns the distinction of the city's most violent area. Half of the ten killings are unsolved.
A Globe and Mail investigation has revealed that police have linked six of those murders to two unsophisticated local gangs, the Gatorz or Five Point Generalz.
Toronto police conducted a gang and drug sweep, Project Spring Clean, which involved the arrests of 120 people and dismantling of 20 grow-ops. With the help of temporary provincial funding, Chief Blair has also brought in 32 new officers to the division, borrowed from other police stations as part of his Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) initiative.
As a result, the violence has subsided. There hasn't been a homicide in two months.
But those officers are leaving in September. And many of the people they arrested, including one suspected top gang member, are awaiting a bail hearing and could be released. The prospect has left residents wondering if police have saved the former City of York or if, come fall, the gangs will be back.
So what can be done about the burgeoning problem of gangs and guns - not just in this area but in Toronto as a whole? And what do Toronto's problems suggest about problems and potential solutions in other parts of the country.
Earlier today, Chief Blair took your questions on gangs, the strike and the Tamil protests earlier this year. His answers appear in the conversation below.
Chief Blair was appointed chief of the Toronto Police Service on April 26, 2005. The Toronto Police Service employs more than 5,500 police officers and 2,000 civilian employees, the largest municipal police service in Canada and one of the largest in North America.
Chief Blair started his 30-year policing career as a beat officer in downtown Toronto and continued with assignments in drug enforcement, organized crime units, and major criminal investigations. His next postings included divisional commander, community policing programs, and detective operations, responsible for all specialized investigative units including the homicide squad, hold up squad, sex crimes unit, fraud squad, forensic identifications services, intelligence services, and organized crime enforcement, including the guns and gangs unit, and the repeat offender program.
As Toronto's Chief of Police, he oversaw the development of the TAVIS initiative. Rapid response teams are deployed to at-risk neighbourhoods to enhance enforcement and support local policing initiatives while promoting the role of community response units and the "neighbourhood police officer."
Chief Blair holds a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Toronto with dual disciplines of economics and criminology (1981) and a certificate in law enforcement administration from the University of Toronto (1983). He is a graduate of the Federal Bureau of Investigation national academy (1990) and the police leadership program from the University of Toronto, Rotman School of Business Management (2002) and National Executive Institute (2006).
Earlier this year, he signed on for another five-years as chief, becoming Toronto's first top cop in three decades to be given a second term.
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