OAKVILLE – Toronto’s recent decision to arm dozens of front line police officers with C8 Carbine Assault rifles has raised questions about whether this is overkill.
Before picturing army men patrolling the streets of Toronto, the public needs to understand what this news means.
Assault rifles are not new to Toronto
Special divisions within the city have been using these military-style weapons for years. One of these divisions is the Emergency Task Force (ETF).
Toronto Police also say they ran a pilot program in 2013, putting similar weapons in police cars in three different districts across the city.
Weapons not on the street
Not every Toronto police officer will be carrying assault weapons. The city currently employs over 5,200 uniformed officers and they have ordered only 51 rifles.
Each division will receive only three assault weapons. Each rifle will be assigned to the same car 24 hours a day.
Police will continue to carry their standard issue Glock .22 handgun.
More, “less-lethal,” options
According to police spokesperson Mark Pugash, the assault weapons will replace the 12-gauge shotguns with which police cruisers are currently equipped.
Some of these shotguns will be converted into “less-lethal” sock guns.
These sock guns use a softer bullet that will inflict pain but will not pierce skin.
Additional officer training
According to Police Chief Mark Saunders, officers will have to undergo up to 40 hours of training to be able to handle these weapons. Yearly qualifications and training will also ensure that police adhere to his office’s “very rigid rules.”
Still, some GTA residents are adamantly against the plan.
Paolo, an Oakville native, says putting these weapons in the hands of front-line officers will “scare people and create a larger divide between police and the general public.”
For other Oakville residents, it is almost a forgone conclusion that the town would never need this kind of tactical weapon. The Town of Oakville has experienced only three police shooting fatalities since 2012.
According to Halton police’s most recent crime statistic report – from 2013-2014 – there were no homicides. The report also indicated that assault incidents were down by over 16 per cent. Halton police classify owning offensive weapons as a property crime and, according to the report, is down over 27 per cent.
Yet, they do.
Halton tactical unit has C8 assault rifle
The Halton Police Tactical Rescue Unit (TRU) is a specialized team that is deployed into high risk situations including rescue, protection and emergency-intervention situations.
In 2013, it assisted in a drug and firearm seizure in Oakville. The TRU confiscated four rifles and ammunition in the Kerr St. area.
The unit’s primary tactical weapon is a C8 Assault Rifle.
The TRU is specialized, and the tactical nature of the unit can draw comparisons to the ETF in Toronto.
Has Toronto set a precedent for police services to give some of their front-line officers the same tools they give to their specialized tactical unit?
Mayor Burton of Oakville is the chairman of the Halton Services Police Board.
“On any given day, there are currently officers on patrol in Halton who have access to the carbine rifle,” Burton said.
Cops need to keep up with criminals
Tanvir Rahkra, a Mississauga native who commutes downtown Toronto for work is okay with the new rifles.
“If the cops that receive the weapons are going to be receiving the proper training … I do not see the harm,” he said.
He also believes that police should maintain an edge when protecting citizens.
“As the criminals continue to arm themselves with significantly more lethal weapons, I do not see why cops cannot protect civilians with the same weaponry.”
Equipping frontline officers with weapons suitable for escalating situations has become a priority for Toronto.
The shooting deaths of three RCMP officers in Moncton in 2014 who had inferior weapons is a reminder to some of the need for more powerful weapons.