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Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders delivers remarks and takes questions from reporters at a press conference in Toronto, on Aug. 9, 2019.Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

Toronto Police provided an update on their $4.5-million anti-gun violence project Monday, days after the Liberals announced that they would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to tackle gun and gangs if re-elected in October’s federal election.

At Toronto Police Services headquarters Monday, Chief Mark Saunders provided a progress report on Project Community Space, which was launched in mid-August in response to a spike in gun violence across the city. There have been more than 500 shooting victims in Toronto so far this year, with 80 victims in August alone. With a federal election on the horizon, gun violence has emerged as a key election issue.

Project Community Space, which is now in week six of 11, includes a boost in street-level police presence, as well as enhanced community engagement efforts and bail compliance monitoring. TPS would not say how many additional officers were deployed as part of the project for operational reasons, or to which areas of the city.

On Monday, Chief Saunders said that his officers have so far arrested 240 people and laid 525 charges; 35 per cent of which were firearms-related, and 17 per cent of which were related to bail compliance.

Chief Saunders has been vocal about his frustrations with the bail system, arguing that gun violence is frequently committed by people who are out on bail. He noted Monday that, in the first half of the project, his officers conducted a “bail enforcement surge,” checking in on 876 people who are out on bail. Asked how many of those people were in breach of their bail conditions, a service spokesperson said they had not yet tabulated that total.

“A lot of the criminals who know that we’re out there are staying home,” Chief Saunders said. “The ones that aren’t staying home, we’re having more opportunities to make those apprehensions.”

Chief Saunders did note that in the past six weeks, 12 people who had been out on bail for firearms-related charges were arrested for breaching their bail conditions. He added that some of those arrests involved new gun charges, though he could not say how many.

He said that in the first six weeks of the project, shootings in the city were down 30 per cent (60) compared with the previous six weeks (85). But in comparison to the same period last year, shootings were in fact up. Between Aug. 13 and Sept. 28, 2018, there were 63 shootings in Toronto. Between Aug. 17 and Sept. 29 this year, there were 67 shootings. Fatal shootings, however, are down. There have been 29 shooting deaths so far this year, compared with 42 at this same time last year.

Chief Saunders would not comment on the number of firearms seized specifically as part of Project Community Space. Year to date, he said the service has seized 666 guns connected to a crime.

As part of the project, the guns and gangs unit is holding gang prevention town halls across the city, aimed at supporting and educating families who live in neighbourhoods most affected by the violence. They have so far held six of 31 town halls.

“Being community-focused is a key element of the service’s modernization plan, and this enhancement is allowing for our officers to be where the community need us the most,” Chief Saunders said. “Enforcement really is reactive. People get shot, we show up, we investigate, we solve. Stepping in front of that, the pro-active piece, I think is a lot more critical [in order to get at the root causes of gang activity].”

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