In just 8 months of 2019, more than 390 people have been shot in Toronto. In a press conference last week, Mark Saunders, Chief of Police, addressed the media about the gun violence catastrophe that has been staining the streets of Toronto.
During his statement, Chief Saunders explained that many of the shootings that the Toronto Police have investigated in the past 10 days directly involve street gangs. Just last year, there were 36 gang-related homicides in the Greater Toronto Area. Chief Saunders emphasized that safety is a joint responsibility, and while the police force is continuing to make arrests and seize firearms, the court system must also treat firearm-related offences gravely. According to Chief Saunders, there are currently 326 people walking free in Toronto (as of Aug. 2019) who have been bailed from gun possession or violence charges.
Yet the question remains: Is Toronto doing enough to stop guns and gangs? Well, mere hours after the Chief’s statement was released, Gunmen in North York declared that they are unstoppable. They will shoot their guns where they want, when they want. The violence gripping the city does not seem to be limited by context; just last week a person was killed near a housing complex in East York. The shooting occurred at 2:30 PM, in broad daylight, surrounded by families and children.
Toronto’s situation is nothing less than heartbreaking. However, as Toronto grows to be less forgiving, it seems as though street gangs are moving out of the city and into the suburbs because of the low-security and awareness that residents have outside of the city. In new and developing neighbourhoods, crime can happen in hindsight as little communication between residents and the police allows for gangs to torment neighbourhoods with no opposition. Visible minority groups are often subject to gang related activity.
In a 2017 interview with Jennifer Evans, the former Chief of the Peel Regional Police, it was revealed that there are over 100 street gangs with more than 1,000 gang members operating within the Peel Region. Many of these gangs have formed strategic alliances with other criminal organizations to deal drugs, obtain firearms, and fuel human trafficking rings.
Most citizens expect the police to be responsible for reducing gang-related crime. Yet, even with a budget of $1.026 billion (2019), and 189.8 officers per 100,000 people (Statistics Canada, 2016), the Toronto Police Service does not have the resources to eliminate gangs completely. In the Peel Region (Brampton and Mississauga), Police only receive $423.1 million (2019) and have 143 officers per 100,000 people (Statistics Canada, 2016).
At first glance, it seems like citizens are helpless to this violence. On the contrary, citizens have the greatest power to help make their cities safe. With community safety initiatives like Neighbourhood Watch Brampton, citizens can sign up for a free online program that teaches them how to keep their homes and communities safe from crime. The program strives to bring neighbours together and get citizens involved in identifying and reporting suspicious activity to help the police stop crime before it even happens. Neighbourhood Watch Brampton allows neighbours to receive updates about crime in their neighbourhood and even develop close relationships with the local fire and police services to be prepared in the event of an emergency.
We cannot change the past, but we can be prepared for the future. The safety of our neighbourhoods is in the hands of knowledgeable and alert citizens. Let the tragedies on the streets of Toronto encourage us as Bramptonians to keep our city safe, by taking the initiative to protect ourselves and our communities.
For more information or to register for Neighbourhood Watch Brampton, please visit https://nwbrampton.ca/.
Editors: Hiral Patel & Farrah Kudus
Correction (6:10 p.m. on August 18, 2019): The Peel Regional Police actually patrol 2 cities (Brampton and Mississauga), where it previously said they patrol 3 cities.
Update (6:10 p.m. on August 18, 2019): Police per 100,000 population was added into the article from Police Resources in Canada, 2016 courtesy of Statistics Canada.