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Toronto Plans stall for Toronto Police Service’s gunshot-detection system

Toronto city council’s approval of the gunshot-detection system was predicated both on further study and the provincial and federal governments providing at least some of the money. According to the city, $2.6-million is needed to install and operate both the ShotSpotter system and the new closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras this year.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Toronto Police Service’s plans to set up a controversial gunshot-detection system called ShotSpotter and double the number of police security cameras in the city have stalled, as the provincial and federal governments have failed to come with any funding.

Mayor John Tory championed the plans last summer and Toronto city council gave them a tentative go-ahead as the city reeled from a wave of gang violence and the Danforth Avenue mass shooting in July. Toronto registered a record 96 homicides in 2018, with 51 involving guns.

But council’s approval of the new technology was predicated both on further study and the provincial and federal governments providing at least some of the money. According to the city, $2.6-million is needed to install and operate both the ShotSpotter system and the new closed-circuit TV (CCTV) cameras this year.

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On Monday, six months after council’s July meeting, Tony Veneziano, the Toronto Police Service’s chief administrative officer, told the city’s budget committee that Ottawa had turned down a request for cash for the programs from the federal government’s national crime prevention grants – meaning both ShotSpotter and the new CCTV cameras are not in the police service’s proposed 2019 budget. Police budget documents also say the province has not provided money for the programs.

In addition to their startup costs, the two programs would add about $1-million a year in operating costs to the police service’s $1-billion annual budget.

Police Chief Mark Saunders said he was not concerned about the lack of funding, as his force was still evaluating ShotSpotter, a computerized network of microphones that can pinpoint gunshots. He also said that any move to implement the system would come with public consultations.

“It’s early in the research right now,” Chief Saunders said. “… We want to make sure when we do move forward, we have all of the questions answered.”

Chief Saunders also said he had not pushed hard for new funding yet for either plan: “I’m not disappointed yet, because I certainly haven’t put the foot on the gas with it. There are a lot of things that are in play right now, and once we figure out what our budget is going to look like, then we will definitely have a more fulsome discussion with all levels of government.”

Don Peat, a spokesman for the mayor, said talks with Ottawa and Queen’s Park on funding the expanded CCTV and ShotSpotter systems are still under way. He also said the city is boosting the force’s budget this year and adding 300 more officers.

According to the force’s budget documents, presented to the police board last month, police applied for funding from the province and the federal government for 40 additional CCTV cameras, bringing the total to 74. The province declined the request, the document says, and the force was awaiting word from Ottawa before asking the city for the money. The document also said the force had asked for funding for ShotSpotter, but had not received answers from either the province or the federal government.

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In an e-mail Monday, Scott Bardsley, a spokesperson for Ralph Goodale, federal Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, said the Crime Prevention Action Fund and the Youth Gang Prevention Fund (the two grants that Toronto would be eligible for under the National Crime Prevention Strategy) “support interventions with vulnerable groups, but do not fund police operations.”

In addition, he noted the federal government “is investing an additional $200-million for provinces and territories to support their specific needs, building on our investments in [the Canada Border Services Agency] and the RCMP to combat gun smuggling.”

A spokeswoman for Sylvia Jones, Ontario’s Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services, pointed to the $18-million over four years that Ontario provided Toronto Police last August to fight gang violence, and said more action on guns and gangs would be forthcoming.

Some civil liberties activists have criticized both ShotSpotter and CCTV cameras, warning of the intrusion of increased state surveillance and of the possible stigma for the communities where they would be deployed. But police in many U.S. cities have embraced ShotSpotter. New York has recently expanded its use of the technology, which allows police to locate the scene of a gunshot even before witnesses call 911.

In December, the federal government announced $6.67-million in funding for youth programs designed to curb violence. It also announced $400,000 for Toronto Police’s “neighbourhood officer” pilot program, which provides “gang prevention and intervention” in targeted areas.

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