The shooting death this week of 23-year-old Mohamed Omer was the 56th homicide in Toronto so far this year. With nearly 70 days left in 2016, Toronto has already seen as many murders this year as last and a significant increase in gun homicides.
The rise in violent crime, after decades of decline, has been reported in many cities across North America, prompting inevitable calls for expanded police resources and powers. But, while such incidents are no doubt shocking and sad, the statistics are hardly cause for panic.
Toronto’s crime rate has been steadily declining since its peak in 1991, a reflection above all of shifting demographics. Even with this year’s uptick, the homicide rate is likely to remain significantly lower than it was a decade ago, which itself was a fraction of what it had been a decade before that.
As University of Toronto criminologist Scot Wortley told the Star, a one-year blip does not a crisis make. “To argue that we’re experiencing some kind of long-term upward spiral of violent crime at this point would be a little premature,” he said. In fact, Toronto remains exceedingly safe for a city its size. Chicago, by contrast, which has a slightly smaller population than Toronto’s, has seen at least 614 homicides already this year, a murder rate about 12 times higher than ours.
None of that makes specific incidents of violence any less real or horrifying, nor does it suggest there are no pressing public safety issues in Toronto.
Like many other largely safe cities, Toronto contains neighbourhoods beset by profound, often socially rooted problems. In a meeting with the Star’s editorial board on Tuesday, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders acknowledged that his force, like many across North America, is grappling with the rising “propensity to use firearms” and the “brazenness with which firearms are used,” particularly in certain low-income neighbourhoods.
But instead of the typical calls for more police resources and tougher approaches in the face of rising violence, Saunders seemed to signal a better way. Part of the answer, he said, is a crackdown on Canada’s illegal firearms trade involving many forces, including the RCMP. But Saunders also rightly emphasized the need for trust-building with the public, bridging the growing gap between police and the communities where the problems are the greatest.
The focus on trust is crucial. The legacy of police carding, a practice banned by the province earlier this year, has created a gulf between minority communities and the police. Public trust has been further undermined by the police violence meted out against those in the midst of mental-health crises such Sammy Yatim, gunned down on a streetcar, or Andrew Loku, shot to death seconds after police arrived at his apartment complex, not to mention the secrecy surrounding such cases.
The problems of crime and violence are best addressed with the community, not against it. The Toronto Police Service is currently considering the far-reaching reforms proposed this past summer by the force’s so-called “transformational task force.” Saunders says the much-needed modernization will be rooted in three principles – “trust, accountability and transparency.” If it is, the transformation might help ensure that the violence we’ve witnessed this year is a blip, not the start of a disturbing trend.
Our editors found this article on this site using Google and regenerated it for our readers.
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