Crime-fighting partnerships between the community and York Regional Police took centre stage today, Aug. 10, as details were released about two projects targeting guns and gangs and human trafficking, made possible with a $600,000 proceeds of crime grant.
The event this morning at York police’s Aurora headquarters follows an Aug. 6 announcement from the Ontario government that it will invest more than $6 million over the next three years to local law enforcement by repurposing funds forfeited during criminal prosecutions.
York Police Chief Jim MacSween said the most important element in both projects is the “community partnerships we will be strengthening and developing”.
The guns and gangs initiative known as Project Infantry will examine the increase in gun and gang violence in York Region over the past year.
York police partners include the Ministry of the Attorney General, York Region Children’s Aid Society, 360Kids, and the Toronto Transit Commission.
“We know the first step is to understand the underlying factors that cause gun and gang violence, only then can we tackle education, prevention, and enforcement,” MacSween said.
The partners will collaborate to identify and examine the reasons for the increase in violent crime, which will assist frontline officers who are combatting this everyday.
“The result will be real data and evidence that should help us understand sudden surges of violence, as well as the effectiveness of prevention strategies,” said MacSween. “We recognize that education and prevention are critical factors in any enforcement strategy.”
The human trafficking initiative known as Project Uriel will include partners from York Region Children’s Aid Society, 360Kids, Victim Services of York Region, and York University.
“The goal of the human trafficking project is to modernize how at-risk youth are identified and reported to police so we can prevent them being trafficked to begin with, or assist them with leaving the life entirely,” said MacSween. “Proactive intelligence gathering related to the sex trade and supports for survivors of human trafficking will play an important role.”
The partners will collaborate to develop a program that aims to prevent recruitment into the sex trade, and create an online tool so social workers can submit reports directly to investigators, which will reduce reporting and investigative delays, MacSween said.
“Partnerships and collaboration are the only way to solve the complicated issues of human trafficking and violent crime,” the police chief said. “Law enforcement can’t do it alone. We must continue to employ a holistic approach and use the experience and expertise of our partners if we want true outcomes.”
York Region’s MPPs, local mayors, and other officials attended today’s event.
Newmarket-Aurora MPP Christine Elliott, who is also deputy premier and health minister, said the funding to York police will help develop a human trafficking crime prevention model based on social development, and also provide resources to address the immediate needs of victims.
“This project will also help York police’s proactive intelligence-gathering initiatives related to the sex trade, and support the organization of an inter-disciplinary conference focused on human trafficking investigations,” Elliott said.
King-Vaughan MPP and Education Minister Stephen Lecce called the provincial funding boost important, particularly “at a time when we see increasing levels of hate crimes manifest in York Region and across the country”.
“...in the context of sexual crimes and human trafficking, these are really some of the most egregious and heinous crimes,” Lecce said.
Lecce noted that in 2019, the Ontario government launched the new health and physical education curriculum that included, for the first time, human trafficking knowledge to help students know “the signs of being trafficked online and the predatory actions of some very sick people who take advantage of young children, particularly on the 400-series highways which is a real hotbed of victimization”.
According to a 2019 York Regional Police statistics report, weapons violations were down by 4 per cent from 2018. There were 531 weapons violations reported in 2019, compared to 553 during the corresponding period in 2018.
A five-year comparison between 2015 and 2019, however, shows a 25.5 per cent increase in weapons violations. For example, there were 531 weapons violations reported in 2019 compared to 423 during the corresponding period in 2015.
The officials in attendance today also included Newmarket-Aurora MPP Christine Elliott, Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill MPP Michael Parsa, Markham-Stouffville MPP Paul Calandra, Vaughan-Woodbridge MPP Michael Tibollo, Richmond Hill MPP Daisy Wai, Markham-Thornhill MPP Logan Kanapath, Markham-Unionville MPP Billy Pang, Newmarket Mayor John Taylor, Aurora Mayor Tom Mraskas, and East Gwillimbury Mayor Virginia Hackson.