Toronto’s police chief said combatting gang violence will be a “top priority” in 2020 as the city reported yet another record year for shootings.
During a news conference on Friday at the city’s police headquarters, Chief Mark Saunders looked back at the service’s year and cast forward to 2020.
“I don’t have to tell anyone here that 2019 was a busy year in the city of Toronto,” he said. According to Toronto Police Service data, there were 717 shootings reported as of Dec. 16, a 16-per-cent increase compared to the same period last year and the highest number on record since at least 2004. Despite that increase, however, the city is on track for fewer shooting deaths than last year.
Chief Saunders suggested the growth in shootings was because guns were more prevalent, but acknowledged that those statistics need to be dissected further. “What I’m looking to do is streamline the capturing of that a little better,” he said.
He also noted that many of this year’s shootings appeared to be random in nature.
This month, 22-year-old student Jeremy Urbina was shot more than 10 times and killed while taking out the garbage from his north Toronto apartment. At a press conference on Thursday, Detective Sergeant Terry Browne said the shooters seemed to have been “hunting” for a target, and that Mr. Urbina’s death may have amounted to a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In an effort to decrease the number of firearms in the city, the Toronto Police Service ran a buyback program with the City of Toronto this year, netting 3,100 guns – 74 per cent of which were handguns, by far the most common type of firearm used in the city’s gang shootings.
According to Chief Saunders, this year, the police service began to take a more “surgical” approach in how they investigate shootings. While Toronto Police Service divisions solve on average about 13 per cent of shooting cases, that rate has jumped to nearly 30 per cent for units using this more tailored approach, he said.
Also in 2020, Chief Saunders said the service will be deploying body-worn cameras, collecting data on the race of people encountered by police and piloting a new shift schedule for officers, the first major change to that system in 35 years. The service will also continue to work on rolling out its multi-year modernization plan.
In its proposed budget, the Toronto Police Service has asked for $40.8-million in new funding, which would pay for, among other things, the hiring of 341 new officers, bringing the total budget to $1.076-billion.
In an e-mailed statement, Toronto Mayor John Tory said he would be convening a meeting in 2020 of mayors from Greater Toronto Area municipalities, police chiefs, and provincial and federal representatives to discuss the problem of gun violence.
“We are working with our police to stop gun and gang violence," he said. "We are supporting the police in the 2020 budget with additional resources, we are trying to get laws changed, including bail laws, and we are going to be investing more in neighbourhoods and kids and families to address the roots of violence.”
Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack said while he was pleased with the new positions in the budget and the shift scheduling pilot project, he was concerned about the growing number of shootings in the city – both for the victims and the safety and mental well-being of his fellow officers.
“I think that this has been a banner year for City of Toronto safety, and not in a good sense from a public safety or policing perspective,” he said.