09/14/2012 01:12 EDT | Updated 11/14/2012 05:12 EST

Police surge leads to 'dramatic decline' in shootings: chief

A project to boost the police presence on the street in the late summer in response to a spate of gun violence has resulted in a "dramatic decline" in the number of shootings in the city, says Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair.

The Summer Safety Initiative, the goal of which was to improve public safety and to find people who would use guns and contribute to violence on the city's streets, got underway in late July and concluded last Sunday.

Existing police officers were asked to work compulsory overtime, a move that had the effect of deploying the equivalent of 329 additional officers on the street, Blair said at a Friday morning news conference.

Shooting occurrences were down 50 per cent compared to the average from 2005 to 2011 for the same seven-week stretch, said Blair.

There was also a 62.2 per cent reduction in homicides and 68.7 per cent reduction in shooting homicides compared to that seven-year average for the same time period, said Blair.

A number of other crime statistics were also down compared to the seven-year average, including the number of thefts, assaults, sexual assaults, break and enters and robberies.

"The evidence before us reaffirms for me my conviction that cops count," said Blair.

"And that when we have sufficient resources to deploy into our neighbourhoods, when they are out there doing the job that they need to do, but they are doing it in a way that is respectful and supported by the communities we are out there to serve and protect, together we make a significant difference."

Police hope to build on project

Deputy Chief Peter Sloly said officer deployment locations were determined through intelligence from police sources and the community about hotspots for crime. He said result of the boost was "quite frankly, going back to old school policing," including an emphasis on engaging with communities and walking the beat.

While the project has concluded, Sloly said the police service wants to build on its results.

Sloly said the police plan to "probably" expand Neighbourhood TAVIS Initiative (NTI), a program where extra officers are deployed into selected high-risk areas.

"We'll put our scarce resources into the best places where they'll develop the best return on that investment," he said.

"We'll continue with staffing redeployments. We're looking at every way we can to move officers out of the buildings and on to the streets."

Getting more officers on the streets could be achieved by realigning shift schedules to be more responsive to communities' needs, said Sloly. The police force also hopes to work more closely with community groups and extend its youth engagement program, which currently only runs in the summer, into the school year.

The project —which was announced partly as a response to high profile fatal shootings on Danzig Street in Scarbrough, at the Eaton Centre shopping mall and on a crowded patio on College Street — is expected to cost around $2 million.