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William Blair, Toronto's Chief of Police
William Blair, Toronto's Chief of Police

Earlier discussion

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair on gangs and guns Add to ...

Josh Wingrove: Thank you for joining us, Chief Blair. This year has been a unique one for Toronto. As you've told community meetings and reporters, the city has seen a significant drop in major crime rates this year. Until the shooting of an 18-year-old over the weekend, we hadn't had a gun homicide in about 10 weeks. And yet we do still see flare-ups in certain communities, such as 12 Division earlier this year. Can you tell us a little about where we're making progress, and what the men and women of the Toronto Police Service have done in the communities that have seen elevated crime rates this year?

Chief Bill Blair: We have actually had fairly significant drops in the major crime index over each of the past four years. I think this has been the result of many things, and not all of them have been done by the police. We have seen a concerted effort in nearly every neighbourhood to get more active in Community safety. We are getting a lot of help from residents, local businesses, schools, community associations, community centres and from the City's youth. We have also engaged with our partners in Public Housing, Public Transit and in the private security sector. All of this is making a difference.

The biggest change in policing has been a renewed emphasis on the Neighbourhood cop. Over the past four years, we have deployed nearly 500 addition officers, in uniform, throughout neighbourhoods across the City of Toronto.

We have placed particular emphasis on building effective relationships with the people who live and work in some of the most vulnerable areas of the city. We are gathering information more effectively and using it more strategically to make sure we are getting the best return on the use of our people and our resources. The best measure of that return is a reduction of crime and victimization.

I believe that if the police in a neighbourhood know the people that they are there to serve, and if the people in that neighbourhood know and trust their police officers, together we can make our communities safer. Places where the police and the public work together are lousy places to sell drugs, carry a gun, victimize innocent people and lure young people into a life of criminality.

In addition, we have been able to deploy additional resources in the form of Rapid Response Teams and our Focused Neighbourhood Deployment Initiative. This allows us to strategically and rapidly deploy dozens of additional police officers to any area of the city that is experiencing violence or the threat of violence. All of this is part of our Toronto Anti Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS). It includes important work by our Drug Squad, Guns and Gangs Unit, and Intelligence Services.

There is ample evidence that this strategy works. We have dismantled many of the worst criminal gangs, and we have made our neighbourhoods safer.

Brian Dias: Chief Blair, thank you for your dedicated public service. The most severe police measure on the books is arrest and the most severe legal penalty is incarceration (and in certain cases, deportation). I suggest that, until these measures increase in both frequency and severity, the public can never be certain whether we need new laws on the books to deal with this problem. As it stands today, neither arrest nor incarceration serve as any meaningful deterrent to gang activity. The gangs revel in the attention and community status that these measures provide, in the forms of street "cred" and, to a degree, a form of martyrdom. Do you, based on the above, feel that the police should be given greater latitude in reasons to arrest gang members, and do you feel the need for stricter punishments to be meted out by the Courts for gang-related offences?

Chief Bill Blair: Canada is a country governed by the rule of law. While I know too well that some in our society have no respect for those laws, the rest of us should not be robbed of our fundamental rights and freedoms because of the actions of a few.

It often appears that criminals do not fear the consequences of our Justice system. There are many who are still engaged in dangerous criminal activity after many arrests, dozens of convictions and even lengthy periods of incarceration. We can not afford to give up and thrown in the towel.

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