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The Ontario government will spend $51-million to speed up the hiring of more police officers and Crown prosecutors while setting up an operations centre to fight gangs and gun violence under a plan unveiled yesterday.

The government will provide the funding to put 1,000 new police officers on city streets across the province by the end of 2006, one year ahead of schedule, and to hire more Crown prosecutors to deal solely with gun crimes.

"We owe it to all the families that lost loved ones to do all that we can to help police and prosecutors get criminals with guns off the street and to do all we can to prevent kids from making the wrong choices in the future," Premier Dalton McGuinty told reporters in Toronto.

Mr. McGuinty said he was not spurred to accelerate plans to hire more police by the tragic shooting death of 15-year-old Jane Creba as she was shopping on Boxing Day in downtown Toronto with her sister.

He said it became clear to him that fighting guns and crime had become a higher priority after he met Dec. 1 with Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair and prosecutors.

"Our government became fully seized of this issue," Mr. McGuinty said. "It became apparent to us that we're going to have to do more with respect to providing more support, more resources, more personnel to our police, prosecutors and courts."

The plan includes:

$14-million to hire up to 150 new police officers in Toronto by next fall. They will be in addition to the 99 officers hired since 2003 as part of an announcement to hire 1,000 police officers.

About $26-million to set up a state-of-the-art operations centre devoted to fighting guns and gangs. The centre will provide the guns and gangs task force, made up of officers from the Ontario Provincial Police and the Toronto Police Service, with the tools and resources it needs in one location.

The addition (using the $26-million) of 31 Crown prosecutors to go after gun crimes, and 15 officers for the OPP's weapons enforcement unit. That unit currently has 43 officers.

$5-million to help Toronto police set up three new teams of officers to deal with guns and gangs.

About $4.7-million to hire three judges to preside over three "major-crimes courts" for trials involving large cases with multiple defendants.

Yesterday's announcement was welcomed by those on the front lines dealing with the guns and violence problem, including Chief Blair and the Ontario Crown Attorneys' Association.

In an interview, Toronto Police Association president Dave Wilson described the Premier's announcement as a "a positive move."

At city hall, where several councillors have called for an emergency meeting to discuss recent gun violence, Mayor David Miller hopes to convene a briefing session next week instead. A spokesman for the mayor said the proposed session would give local politicians an opportunity to hear directly from Chief Blair as well as the chairman of the Toronto Police Services Board, the civilian oversight body, and top city officials.

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