Police Chief Mark Saunders is fighting back against suggestions that an officer shortage is partly at fault for a recent wave of gun violence, telling CP24 that the number of uniformed constables on patrol during the busy overnight period has been mostly unchanged for five years now.

Saunders made the comment on Wednesday morning in reaction to recent criticism from Toronto Police Association Mike McCormack.

McCormack told CP24 on Tuesday that there are 800 fewer officers on the streets than there were seven years ago and that the reduction in officers is at least partly to blame for a surge in shootings so far this summer.

Saunders, however, told CP24 on Wednesday that the number of officers working between the hours of 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. has only fluctuated by seven over the last five years, something that he said is "important" for the public to understand.

“Yesterday’s narrative spoke about 800 officers less. The reality is that when we talk about deployment the numbers from 2013 to 2017 show the same thing. It is about 245 officers that are working at the key times when we have most of our violent crimes and about 125 police vehicles that are out there ready to go,” he said. “Having said that the issue when we talk about the modernization plan is that most of the calls we are betting right now are non-emergency calls. Our officers are dealing with a lot of issues that to be honest I don’t think we should be doing.”

The Toronto Police Service did institute a three-year hiring freeze as part of modernization efforts in 2015; however that policy was aborted after just two years.

This year the TPS plans to hire 200 additional officers, though only 57 have been hired so far.

Speaking with CP24, Saunders conceded that officers are “frustrated because they are going from call to call,” but he said that “saturating the streets with officers” is not the right solution.

“One of the top 20 calls we get are hazards. I have got highly trained officers being paid $130,000 a year in salaries and benefits being sent to look at hydro lines on the ground. The public doesn’t want that, I don’t want that and neither do the officers. There has to be alternatives,” he said.

The ongoing modernization of the Toronto Police Service includes initiatives like utilizing civilian employees for some non-emergency neighbourhood safety incidents and getting more officers out of their cruisers and walking the beat.

The plan also calls for the merging of some police divisions, the redrawing of some boundaries and an increased emphasis on diverting non-policing calls to other city departments and service providers.

“Being strategic and having the right resources – not just necessarily front line people driving around in circles but specialized people who are plugged in – to help relieve some of the pressures from the front line people is necessary,” Saunders said Wednesday.

Saunders and Tory are expected to announce the Toronto Police Service’s gun violence reduction plan at a news conference Thursday morning.