Kitchener-Waterloo

Waterloo regional police adds more investigators to combat gun crime

The Waterloo Regional Police Service has added investigators to its major crime unit to deal with an influx of gun crime, gang violence and drug trafficking.

'We have to do more' to tackle gun crime, but 'the police can't go it alone': Chief Bryan Larkin

Irshad Sabriye was one of five homicide victims in Waterloo region in 2019. Sabriye was found Nov. 26 on the Courtland Avenue off-ramp from Highway 7/8 in Kitchener. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

The Waterloo Regional Police Service has added investigators to its major crime unit to deal with an influx of gun crime, gang violence and drug trafficking.

"We've got a rising violent crime rate," Chief Bryan Larkin said in an interview.

"We've recently redeployed operational resources in our organization to provide support to our major crime team."

Three new investigators have been temporarily seconded to the major crime unit to help with the investigations.

CBC has requested the total number of officers who are part of the unit, but has not received a response yet.

GTA connection

The police service is currently working on four homicide investigations.

Larkin said some of the cases extend to the Greater Toronto Area, so additional resources are required to travel to and from other communities.

The GTA connection isn't a rarity. According to the police service, many people charged with drug trafficking and violent crime aren't from Waterloo region.

"Often, our investigations find the tentacles of crime go back to the GTA," said Const. Ashley Dietrich, public relations officer with the police service.

"Because individuals involved in criminal activity do not necessarily respect geographical boundaries, we are seeing an increase in violent and non-violent crime in Waterloo region."

Waterloo Regional Police Service Chief Bryan Larkin says Waterloo region needs to do more to combat gun crime. (Matthew Pierce/CBC)

Parts of the community 'left behind'

In 2019, there were 21 shooting-related incidents, five of which were homicides. Four of the five homicides were targeted shootings, which means the victim and suspect were known to each other.

According to the police service, there is no comparable data for shooting-related incidents in previous years, as the statistics are grouped with other types of incidents.

Patrick Watson, an assistant professor in criminology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Brantford, says growing income inequality and high property prices in the region could be a driving force behind more violent gun crime.

"The income inequality in Waterloo [region] is pretty dramatic at this point, especially with the sort of market forces that are being driven on property prices by the tech sector," Watson said.

"But parts of the community are being left behind."

'We have to do more'

The most recent deadly shootings happened in the last two months.

Irshad Sabriye, 20, was shot on Nov. 26 around Courtland Avenue and Highway 7/8 in Kitchener. And 19-year-old Yafiet Rezene was shot during a party on Windale Crescent on Dec. 15.

"It's tragic," said Larkin. "From the seat that I sit in, I consistently ask myself, 'How does this happen?'"

Larkin added, "we have to do more."

But, he said, "the police can't go it alone."

He called on other groups in the community to come together to tackle gun violence.

"We need to do more as a society. Anything less is unacceptable," he said.

Watson says the way to move forward is "to show people opportunity to participate in the legitimate economy."

"And this involves things like youth social programs, athletic programs, counselling tactics ... and training on the part of the police to understand how to work with youth from different communities," said Watson.

About the Author

Julianne Hazlewood is a multimedia journalist who's worked at CBC newsrooms across the country as a host, video journalist, reporter and producer. Have a story idea? julianne.hazlewood@cbc.ca

With files from Paula Duhatschek and Matthew Pierce

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