Public safety task force to tackle ‘substantial’ rise in Calgary gun violence

Police remove a bullet from a wall inside a home after an early morning shooting scene in Altadore on June 24, 2020. At least two vehicles and three homes were hit by gunfire along 21A Street S.W.

A “concerning” uptick in gun crime will be a key focus when Calgary city council’s public safety task force meets next month.

Last week

, a man was taken to hospital after he was shot twice in the southeast community of Ogden, according to Calgary police.

Police also responded to

two unrelated shootings

on the morning of Aug. 7. One man in his late teens suffering soft-tissue damage was hospitalized after being shot at a home in Lynnwood.

Later that same morning, police responded to a scene in Calgary’s northwest after a group of people were arguing in the streets and multiple gunshots were fired.

Those incidents add to growing gun crime tallies this year.

There were 66 shootings in Calgary this year through the end of July, up by 11 for the same period last year. Calgary averaged around 48 shootings from 2015 to 2019 during the first seven months of the year.

Of the shootings recorded so far in 2020, eight were fatal and 22 caused injury, while 36 were classified as non-injury or causing property damage.

Coun. George Chahal said the

task force

, whose mandate includes tackling crime related to guns and gangs, will look to zero in on the issue when it meets mid-September.

“That’s a substantial increase in our city and for me it causes concern, as it does for Calgarians,” said Chahal, who chairs the committee established earlier this year.

“It is an important issue. It is a problem we need to address and I’m hoping our public safety task force, through the work we do, will bring forward meaningful recommendations and actions we can take immediately, but also work on making an impact on this longer term.”

 A police officer gathers evidence at a shooting on 1st Avenue N.W. on July 25, 2020. One man was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries.

Chahal said there’s a sense of urgency to address those rising numbers.

Starting later this month, the committee will be conducting a “significant number” of community engagement initiatives, including surveys, town halls and roundtable discussions with Calgarians and key stakeholders.

Chahal said the group wants to hear from residents about how they’ve been impacted by gun crime and how the city can do better.

“What we do need to do is we really need to have a conversation about everything,” he said.

“We need to look at, ‘is gun control working with the measures we have in place and what else can we do?’ We need to engage … those law-abiding gun owners and see what their thoughts are and community members as well. Do they feel like there’s the right precautions in place?”

He said the biggest challenge surrounding guns is determining where they come from.

“The cross-border smuggling, the folks who deal with this gun trade and the associated drug trade, there’s a huge opportunity to shut down and be … tighter with our borders with guns coming in,” said Chahal.

“I think to do it, if we really want to solve the problem, we have to look at all aspects of crime, violence and the methods used.”

 Guns and drugs on display after a seizure by Calgary police in 2016.

Calgary police have seen an increased number of guns on the streets, according to Sgt. Ben Lawson of the firearms investigative team.

He said there’s been an uptick over the last two months in the number of weapons being seized after being used in crimes.

“I think any uptick in violence is obviously a concerning trend,” said Lawson, who also attributed increased gun crime this year to longer periods of warmer weather.

“I think the more we get, the more we see trends, the more we can kind of target in on different areas.”

But unlike other regions within Canada, Lawson said Calgary police aren’t seizing large quantities of guns smuggled in from the U.S.

He said close to two-thirds of guns seized by CPS are lawfully purchased within Canada.

“It’s definitely a lower number here. Is it out there? Yes, possibly, and that’s what our team is trying to figure out. The more guns we seize, the better picture we get,” he said.

“That isn’t anything indicative of any changes in legislation. It just seems to be more readily available as kind of a new method of violence.”

 Police investigate a fatal shooting in the southeast community of Legacy on July 14, 2020.

Chahal said the task force will also sit down with prosecutors, criminal lawyers and legal experts to explore potential changes when it comes to policing.

He noted the task force is conducting its work through the lens of racism and discrimination. Chahal said it’s vital to understand “the concerns and needs of community members but also the realities in government and policing.”

“That’s a big part of the conversation we’re seeing on reallocating resources to ensure that our police service has the ability to do their job well,” Chahal said.

“It’s not about always the police, it’s about working better with the community. I think there’s a huge opportunity on that piece when it comes to the prevention end.”

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