A little while ago, while chatting with a veteran Halifax police detective I
asked what changes he's seen in our city since joining the force. Without
hestitating, he answered "guns."
"When I first started it was rare to arrest a suspect who was carrying a
weapon," he told me, "now we see it all the time."
That shift to an American-type gun culture is clearly evident when you look
at the latest crime stats. We all know 2011 was a violent year in Halifax. A
record number of homicides (18), a record number of shootings (75), and a
homicide rate that is the highest since 1981.
According to Statistics Canada, Halifax is one of the most violent cities
in the country. Last year we had a murder rate of 4.4 persons per 100,000
population. That was second only to Winnipeg (5.1) and far higher than the
national avearge of 1.7 homicides per 100,000 people. Our homicide rate is even
more sobering when you compare it to Canada's largest cities. The homicide rate
in Montreal is just 1.4, Toronto 1.5 and Vancouver 1.8.
Halifax police acknowledge gun violence is a growing concern and they are
trying to put a dent in those figures. They're targeting the two-bit criminals
who now believe they not only have to pack a weapon, but have to be willing to
And they are trying to get those guns off the streets. So far this year
Halifax police have seized 609 weapons, up from 423 guns over the same period
last year. That's more than three weapons seized every single day.
This week I had a chance to see some of those weapons at the storage locker
at the Halifax police station on Gottingen Street. They have virtually every gun
imaginable. I saw a .44 magnum (Dirty Harry's gun), some .38s, rifles sawed down
and modified to fit under a coat, and pistols in every shape and size.
Some of these weapons were seized from crimes, some were guns police
removed from homes during domestic dispute calls, while others were turned in by
former gun owners.
That's where police say you can help get guns off the street.
"Many of the guns are coming from break-an-enters into local homes," said
Cst. Brian Palmeter.
"We're asking legitimate gun owners if they have guns they are not using,
contact the police, turn the gun over and it will be destroyed," said Palmeter.
"It eliminates the chance of that gun falling into the hands of criminals to be
used for a criminal purpose."
Police know deterring violent crimes is far more complex than simply
getting a few guns off the street. But it's a start.