TORONTO - Close to 250 arrests were made in the first six weeks of a project aimed at curbing gang activity in Toronto, police say, including 12 people who were taken into custody while on bail for firearms offences.

Police Chief Mark Saunders gave an update Monday on Project Community Space, which launched in August after the force received funding from all three levels of government.

He said the program has been "extremely effective" in increasing community safety, gathering intelligence and making arrests.

"Over the six weeks, shooting events have decreased 30 per cent compared to the six weeks prior to the start of this project," Saunders told a news conference. "These results speak to the project being intelligence-led and that officers are in key areas and able to get to scenes quickly."

Officers laid 525 charges as part of the project so far, Saunders said, with firearms-related offences accounting for more than a third. Violent offences, such as assault and sexual assault, made up 11 per cent of the charges, while the bulk of the remainder were related to outstanding warrants or failure to comply with bail conditions.

Officers conducted close to 900 compliance checks for those on bail, he said, adding that people reoffending while on release is a "big concern."

"When all that work is done and an apprehension is made and that person is back out again in short order ... the community, they feel like they are not being listened to and so they lose hope in the system," he said.

The new program — which will use $1.5 million each from the federal, provincial and municipal governments — is set to run for 11 weeks in total.

Toronto Mayor John Tory requested the additional resources after a spate of violence in August that saw 17 people injured in 14 separate shooting incidents across the city.

Police said at the time the majority of those incidents were related to street gangs.

The city has been grappling with a surge in gun crime that has seen the number of shootings rise in the past five years: in 2014, police had recorded 111 shootings involving 139 victims, which included people hurt and killed, by mid-August; over the same time period 2019, police recorded 267 shooting incidents with 401 victims.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 30, 2019.

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