Calgary

Calgary police are seeing more guns and more unpredictable crimes, superintendent says

In the past, many Calgary shootings could be traced to organized crime, but now more people are carrying guns and are firing more rounds, says a superintendent with the city police.

'We've never seen it quite like this before,' says Supt. Cliff O'Brien

Supt. Cliff O'Brien of the Calgary Police Service says most shootings are not connected to gangs. (Mount Royal University)

In the past, many Calgary shootings could be traced to organized crime, but now more people are carrying guns and are firing more rounds, says a superintendent with the city police.

Supt. Cliff O'Brien spoke with the Calgary Eyeopener about the city's recent uptick in gun violence, with 60 shootings already this year — nearly double the five-year average.

That includes two shootings on Monday, both in broad daylight.

"Even if the vast majority of those shootings are targeted, which they are, it still impacts our entire community, and unfortunately, as we've seen yet again, it puts our entire community at risk," said O'Brien.

"We're seeing people that perhaps were prolific offenders, but not necessarily involved in gangs, that are now carrying guns and are now using guns … seemingly without really much deterrent."

About 25 per cent of shootings so far this year can be tied to organized crime, he said. The service is seeing shootings related to a number of other issues, including drug deals, domestic situations or even road rage. 

"On the weekend … [in] one of those cases we had over 60 rounds fired. I mean, that's absolutely ridiculous," he said.

Across the country, there's been an 81 per cent increase in violent offences involving guns since 2009, according to Statistics Canada.

Calgary Police have responded to 60 shootings already this year, nearly double the average rate. (David Bell/CBC)

The source of the guns is also an issue, O'Brien said. The service is able to trace only about half of the guns they seize, with some being smuggled into the country, trafficked or stolen.

Staff Sgt. Ben Lawson is head of CPS's firearms investigative unit, which started in 2020.

"Each year, as we kind of keep going through and collecting this data and targeting these offenders, we're going to see more and more trends that we're going to be able to address over time," he said in an interview on the Eyeopener.

"We'll start to see that undetermined number shrink quite a bit." 

Earlier this month, the federal government also brought in changes that require store owners to retain sales and inventory records for non-restricted firearms for a minimum of 20 years.

"That'll help us when we get a crime gun to go backwards and determine where … those firearms came from," he said.

Of the more than 1,700 firearms seized last year, 550 were crime guns. As of the end of April this year, CPS has already seized 755 firearms, of which more than 160 are crime guns.

Handguns, which are a restricted firearm, account for about one-third of the crime guns seized.

This cache of stolen weapons was seized by Calgary police in 2016. (CBC)

To help Calgary police solve some of these cases, O'Brien is asking for assistance from the community.

"I know that there are people out there that have pieces of information, although it may seem small or it may seem insignificant to them. There are pieces of information that can absolutely solve a crime or in some cases prevent [one]," he said.

"If we come together, we can drive this trend down."

Added supports

To that end, the Alberta government announced Wednesday an $850,000 investment in Crime Stoppers that will help with crime prevention efforts over the next three years. 

"Successful crime prevention requires the involvement of communities," said Tyler Shandro, minister of justice and solicitor general. 

"Crime Stoppers has done tremendous work encouraging citizens to take an active role in preventing and reporting crime."

In response, NDP justice critic Irfan Sabir put out a statement, arguing for a wider range of approaches to tackle violent crime, including affordable housing, mental health and addiction support, and hiring more prosecutors.

O'Brien also pointed to vulnerabilities in the justice system, saying some offenders end up right back in the community.

"They will go to jail for a period of time. They will get back out and they will start up again, and we see this cycle in Calgary and we've seen this for many, many years," he said.

Overall, O'Brien said they're seeing more guns and more unpredictable crimes.

"We've never seen it quite like this before."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Taylor Simmons

Digital associate producer

Taylor Simmons is a digital associate producer for CBC Calgary. She has a masters in journalism from Western University and has worked as a multiplatform reporter in newsrooms across Canada, including in St. John's and Toronto. You can reach her at taylor.simmons@cbc.ca.

With files from Lisa Robinson and Huyana Cyprien

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