Crime Prevention Ottawa is changing its focus from hardened gangsters to low-level drug dealers in its ongoing effort to deter violence on the city's streets
The agency, founded by the City of Ottawa in partnership with Ottawa police, the United Way and other groups, launched its three-year Ottawa Gang Strategy in 2013 with the goal of dissuading young people from joining gangs, and convincing existing members to leave the lifestyle behind.
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But through community consultations, the agency soon discovered there were other sources of crime and violence.
"People living in affected neighbourhoods are more concerned about the daily instabilities of living with the presence of violence and the drug trade, and less concerned with the big traumatic incidents that make the news," said Nancy Worsfold, Crime Prevention Ottawa's executive director.
"It's the daily instability of living with the harassment and noise and so on which comes with the drug trade."
That drug trade isn't necessarily tied to gangs, Ottawa police agree.
"It's low-level drug traffickers that are having issues with where their locations of trafficking [are], and there are feuds between different drug-trafficking networks," said Insp. Mark Patterson of the Ottawa police guns and gangs unit.
'It's the daily instability of living with the harassment and noise and so on which comes with the drug trade.' - NAncy Worsfold, Crime Prevention Ottawa
Ottawa police believe there are 435 active gang members in Ottawa. But of 66 shootings so far 2017, only 19 have clear gang ties, Patterson said. Likewise, in 2016 only 10 of the city's 24 homicides involved gangs.
Crime Prevention Ottawa has made "low-level" crime its focus for the next three years, and has even renamed its crime-fighting roadmap the "Ottawa Street Violence and Gang Strategy, 2017 to 2020."
Part of the strategy involves finding more mentorship and job opportunities for youth at risk, and building better relationships between police and the communities that are experiencing street-level violence.
Cycle of violence
Patterson said it's helpful that community groups are working with police to look at why young people start dealing drugs, and why more of them seem to be carrying weapons.
He said residents of those communities — particularly family members of witnesses who refuse to talk to police — can become important crime-fighting allies.
"We need the assistance of those people, parents particularly of those youth ages 18 to 25, to say, 'You have to come forward, provide information to police and hold those people accountable.' Otherwise it's going to be a cycle," Patterson said.