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Toronto Toronto police to shrink number of drugs and gangs units

The Toronto Police Service is shrinking the number of drug and gang teams as part of a staffing realignment – a move that critics are questioning in the face of surging gun and gang violence.

TPS spokesperson Meaghan Gray said Thursday the drug and gun units have been responsible for more than 625 arrests, hundreds of search warrants and the seizure of 160 guns and almost half a million grams in illicit drugs. But, like the service as a whole, these teams have been losing officers to retirements and resignations, and she said the remaining team members are being reorganized “to effectively continue the work they have been doing.”

Ms. Gray would not confirm the overall number of officers the teams have lost, noting that it is “not in [the service’s] interest to have the public know how many officers are dedicated to that line of work.”

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Police sources who are not authorized to speak to the media told The Globe that they were told the number of drug teams (each of which have roughly six or seven officers) will be cut from six to four. The number of guns and gangs units (which similarly have six or seven officers a team) will also be reduced from six to four.

This comes as Premier Doug Ford recently announced that Ontario would be allocating $25-million to police forces and courts to tackle gun violence after a series of high-profile shootings in Toronto this summer. In total, there have been more than 300 shootings and more than 80 homicides in the city so far this year. There were 392 shootings and 65 homicides in total in 2017.

After a particularly bloody period this summer – when 10 people were shot over five days – Chief Mark Saunders pledged to boost the number of front-line officers overnight through September.

Toronto Police Association president Mike McCormack argued this was a Band-Aid fix to a staffing crisis that was caused by a hiring freeze implemented in 2016. The freeze – which was part of the service’s plan to rein in a $1-billion budget and overhaul policing culture – was lifted earlier this year. But Mr. McCormack has argued that the hiring has not kept pace with attrition – and that the front line is struggling to make it from call to call.

The service is down 800 police officers since 2010, he said – with 246 having already left so far this year alone. “We’re seeing exactly what we’ve been [warning about] for years,” he said.

The “realignment” of the drug and gun unit officers, he said, is the latest symptom of that shortage – and is particularly concerning at a time when gun and gang violence seems to be hitting a crisis point.

He said he has not yet been formally advised of the details of these changes, but said he is scheduled to meet with Chief Saunders on Monday.

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Toronto Mayor John Tory plans to raise the issue with Chief Saunders on Friday, Mr. Tory’s spokesman, Don Peat, said. “He wants to make sure those units continue to have all the resources they need to do their job.”

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