In the wake of a recent spate of murders — and with gunfire erupting more than twice as often as it did a few years ago — the Toronto Police union boss says it’s time to ask a dark question.
“Is this the new norm for our city?”
“What we’ve seen is a dramatic increase in shootings since 2014,” Toronto Police Association President Mike McCormack told the Toronto Sun. “There were nearly 600 shooting victims in Toronto last year — a record high.”
In 2014, Toronto saw 177 shooting occurrences and 242 shooting victims. By 2016, there were 407 occurrences and 581 victims — numbers that remained similarly high last year and through the first five months of 2018.
“It’s not a blip,” McCormack said. “It’s something we’re very concerned about and all Torontonians should be concerned about.”
Beginning with the shooting that killed Mohammed Gharda, 17, and critically injured an 18-year-old man in northeast Scarborough on May 20, the city recently endured eight murders in just 11 days.
Those killings included Jaiden Jackson, 28, whose final moments were captured by a security camera as he ran for his life into a downtown parking garage with two gunmen on foot and a third in a car firing at him relentlessly; married mother of three Rhoderie Estrada, 41, who was slain in her bedroom when an unknown killer apparently entered her East York home through a window; tech CEO Matthew Staikos, 37, who was shot execution-style in tony Yorkville; and Israel Edwards, 18, who was gunned down in the heart of the city at Yonge-Dundas Square.
Six of the nine murder victims in May were shot to death and arrests have so far been made in only one case.
Only 19 of the 37 homicides this year — just over 54% — have been solved so far. And when the Yonge St. van attack that killed 10 people is excluded, the clearance rate drops to a dismal 9 of 27 solved — just over 33%.
McCormack maintains the increase in violent crime “coincides with the lack of police resources” — a concern the union has been raising as Toronto Police implements sweeping changes as part of its effort to modernize the service.
“We have less officers being told to do more with less and we’re seeing more violence,” the union boss said. “It’s definitely having an impact on our men and women.”
The increased stress of policing in Toronto has prompted many cops to leave, often joining other GTA services.
One veteran officer, Const. Stefan Mueller, even sent out a mass email to all service members last week — including the top brass — pleading for more cops to be put on the road before someone gets hurt.
With so few cops on the road, bouncing from one radio call to the next, he said fewer traffic stops and there is little time to interact with the public.
Overall arrests numbers have also plummeted.
A source told The Sun that in 2012 police routinely made more than 50,000 arrests annually, but in recent years that number has been cut in half.
Many officers believe the service’s “transformational change,” provincial restrictions virtually ending street checks — aka carding — and disbanding of TAVIS (Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy) has created the perfect storm and things will only get worse.
While city and police officials often espouse the notion “Toronto is still one of the safest urban cities in North America,” the recent violence seems to have grabbed their attention.
“The incidents of gun violence we have seen in our city in the past few days are shocking and can in no way be accepted or brushed aside,” Mayor John Tory said.
He said Chief Mark Saunders has “assured” him police are “doing everything possible to bring the perpetrators of these despicable crimes to justice.”
Saunders was unavailable for comment but police spokesman Mark Pugash said the recent increase in violence is a high priority.
“Every homicide is a cause for great concern,” he said. “Our Homicide detectives are relentless, so we’re confident they will continue to make arrests and put those accused before the courts.”
Defending the new model of policing, Pugash said the service is now “far more nimble and able to move resources around.” He also pointed out crime statistics over the last 20 years show the city periodically endures an “uptick” in shootings and killings such as the recent wave of violence.
“But by the end of the year the total number remains pretty much the same,” Pugash said.