Violence involving firearms continues to be a problem in Edmonton and bystanders are at risk of getting caught in the crossfire, police warn.
"We are seeing incidents of brazen gunfire on our streets, in residential neighbourhoods, and other public places," Supt. Shane Perka of the EPS criminal investigations division told reporters Thursday.
"And that is very concerning."
Data provided by Edmonton Police Service show 150 shootings last year, down slightly from 158 in 2020. Of those, 72 per cent were believed to be targeted and 47 per cent had gang involvement.
More than half of shootings were on city streets.
"The more gunplay there is in the street, the more opportunity there is for unintended consequences and somebody to be injured," Perka said, adding the majority of shootings were targeted as opposed to random.
Police determined innocent bystanders were at risk in 46 per cent of shootings where shots were fired in the air, in the direction of residences, vehicles or people. In seven of the 69 incidents listed, police say children were present.
Eighty-nine — or 59 per cent — of shootings resulted in injuries or death, down from more than 100 in 2020.
So far this year there have been 29 shooting incidents in Edmonton, including nine this month. Twenty of those resulted in injuries or death.
Officers seized 1,633 firearms in 2021, over 500 more than 2020.
Doug King, a professor of justice studies at Mount Royal University, said violent crime and the use of firearms is trending across North America and has been for some time, only seeing a slight dip early in the pandemic.
"What we've seen currently is actually more use of firearm violent crimes than existed before the pandemic," King said.
The rise in gang-related firearm violence in British Columbia may be spilling over the border and affecting Edmonton, he said.
Staff Sgt. Eric Stewart, in charge of the EPS firearms investigation unit and gang suppression team, said weapons are being trafficked in Alberta, where people purchase firearms legally, then sell them to crime groups.
"Residential and business breaking enters that are happening is another way those firearms are getting here, unlike what's happening out East where they get a lot more firearms coming across the border."
Another concern is the use of imitation firearms to commit crimes with 693 air guns being seized in 2021, Stewart said.
Criminals are finding ways to convert imitation firearms into real ones, he said, refusing to elaborate on the methods.
"When we're dealing with some of these firearms, whether it's imitation at the end and at the time, we just don't know."