With Ottawa just a few deaths away from tying its record for the most homicides in a year, a police superintendent is pointing to staffing challenges and an increase in weapons as some of the factors driving the rate upward.

The city saw its 21st and 22nd homicides of the year this weekend.

On Saturday, a man was fatally shot on McLeod Street in Centretown. Then a 20-year-old Carleton University student died early Sunday morning after he was stabbed outside a McDonald's at the intersection of Meadowlands and Prince of Wales drives.

The last time this many people were killed in Ottawa was in 1995. 

That year there were 25 homicides, most driven by a power struggle between members of the Italian Mafia as they fought to take over the organization after a powerful boss was arrested.

The spike may represent a "new normal," according to Supt. Don Sweet of the Ottawa police criminal investigations directorate.

Police seeing more guns, knives

As news of shootings spreads, police have noticed more people arming themselves with guns and knives.

"I can't say for sure that there are more weapons out there, but I can say it seems they're more eager to use the weapons that are at their hands," Sweet said.

The majority of homicides are targeted for revenge or retribution or gang-related drug disputes, Sweet said. Many involve petty issues, such as someone feeling disrespected, or a fight over drug debts or girlfriends.

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Supt. Don Sweet defends how police handled a case of suspected child abuse more than a year before a nine-year-old boy's parents were arrested. (Roger Dubois/CBC News)

Staffing is also an ongoing challenge, Sweet said.

The guns and gangs unit has eight full-time officers and three full-time DART officers.

The Direct Action Response Team (DART) is responsible for monitoring gang members. They do traffic stops and drop in unannounced on the homes of known gang members and drug dealers to ensure they're abiding by their parole and bail conditions.

But between May and November of this year DART officers were working in patrol rather than performing their normal roles to help with staffing shortages. 

Major crime investigators are tired and taxed, Sweet said.

He said having more investigators would allow officers to be more proactive. 

"That's being in the community more often, doing more warrants, trying to get ahead of these situations before they become a shooting," Sweet said.

He said in a conference call this past week Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau decided that more investigators will be shifted to major crime to work on homicides.

Ten of this year's 22 cases have yet to be solved.

Issues on the horizon for 2017

Incoming regulations around street checks could it make it even more difficult to interact with the community, Sweet said.

The new rules, which come into effect Jan. 1, ban police from randomly stopping people to collect personal information.

"Officers are now, more than ever, being challenged," Sweet said.

"I think the intelligence information and the fact that we're out there and they know that we're out there might be diminished somewhat by this legislation that's coming in January," he said.