Hamilton shootings hit 8-year high, part of 'problematic' pattern

Of the 42 times a trigger has been pulled in the city so far in 2019, police say there have been 23 victims and seven deaths.

Deputy chief 'confident' police will be able to manage the situation

Hamilton police investigate a shooting in March that left a teen with a gunshot wound to the arm. There have been 42 shootings so far in 2019, the highest in the past eight years. (David Ritchie)

Hamilton has hit an eight-year high for shootings, and there's still more than a month to go before the end of the year.

Of the 42 times a trigger has been pulled in the city so far in 2019, police say there have been 23 victims and seven deaths.

Police provided CBC with shooting statistics going back to 2012. They show a somewhat steady increase in the number of incidents each year.

Here's a breakdown of the number of shootings by year:

  • 2012 - 12
  • 2013 - 12
  • 2014 - 7
  • 2015 - 14
  • 2016 - 23
  • 2017 - 41
  • 2018 - 25
  • 2019 - 42 so far.

Hamilton police Deputy Chief Frank Bergen pointed out the low in 2014 was doubled the following year and the numbers started to rise since 2016, a pattern he described as "quite problematic."

The previous high of 41 was hit in 2017, then the number of shootings dropped significantly the following year. But, as statistics show, 2019 saw the number of incidents climb back up while hitting the highest rate in recent years.

"We didn't maintain the premier year of 2018, we went back," said Bergen.

But, he noted, despite the large difference in the number of incidents, 2018 and 2019 saw a similar number of shooting deaths — six and seven respectively.

"Our trend certainly from shootings is up," he said, adding the rate of gun homicides is "unacceptable" and "inching closer to being a problem."

Police attribute most of shootings in the city to a culture of drugs, crime and guns linked to the GTA, said Bergen.

"What we are seeing is … the majority of these incidents if not all of them, most certainly recently, are targeted," he added.

This bullet hole are seen in the window of a townhouse complex that was shot up in Hamilton in March. (Adam Carter/CBC)

That doesn't mean bullets always hit their intended target. Bergen said shootings happen across the city and many situations involve someone firing into a home or building rather than at a specific person, which comes with risks of its own.

"We do not need innocent people to be caught in a crossfire." he explained.

No plans to reintroduce task force

Earlier in the year police introduced a Make Safe task force aimed at taking on gun violence following a spike in shootings.

Members, led by the gangs and weapons enforcement unit, made dozens of arrests and seized guns, Tasers and ammunition. But the initiative was disbanded in the spring.

During a recent conversation, Bergen said the service did not plan to reintroduce the task force.

This gun was among four firearms seized by the Make Safe task force in March. The force was created in response to the rise in the number of shootings in 2019, but was disbanded in the spring. (Hamilton Police Service)

When asked what police were doing about 2019's high number of shootings he provided few specifics, instead saying internal conversations are happening and there's "awareness" about the issue at the leadership level. The service is  also evaluating its resources and possible responses.

"We are actively working these investigations, we're actively harvesting evidence and we are appropriately responding to the needs as we see fit at this time," said the deputy chief.

Part of that work involves collaborating with other police services in the surrounding area who are dealing with similar situations.

Among the victim's of this year's shootings are  17-year-old Abdulla Hassan, who was found with a gunshot wound in a car in Dundas, and Cece Luppino, the son of mobster Rocco Luppino, who was gunned down in January.

Abdulla Hassan, 17, was shot and killed in April 2019. (Andrew Collins)

One issue investigators often run into is a lack of cooperation from witnesses.

"It's very troubling," he said, adding people seem to have "amnesia or no desire to cooperate."

"I'm confident that the Hamilton Police Service is equipped to manage this and continue to work with the community," said Bergen. "But we are only as good as what we get from the other end of it."

'Totally unacceptable'

During one week in mid-November shots were fired in the city three times in just three days, including evidence of a trigger being pulled near King Street East and Gage Street North, an attempted murder outside a central Hamilton bar and a shooting in Stoney Creek that left a man in critical condition.

Despite a large number of witnesses to the shooting outside the bar, police said people weren't cooperating so they released a video showing what happened in hopes it would help coax someone to come forward.

It shows a group of people socializing outside its front door when suddenly one man suddenly draws a weapon and pulls the trigger, appearing to hit another man at close range.

A 24-year-old man suffered a gunshot wound to the head.

CAUTION: Some may find this video disturbing.

A 24-year-old man suffered a gunshot wound to the head after a shooting at the central Hamilton bar on Nov. 16 0:57

After the shooting the crowd breaks up, with several people walking past the injured man lying on the ground.

"I am so disappointed that human behaviour 101 would allow people to be standing on a sidewalk together, witness a shooting … and go so far as to walk past a person in need to go back into an establishment," said Bergen. "Totally unacceptable."