Police board answers plea for more guns and gangs officers

The Ottawa Police Services Board made an official appeal for more officers in a unanimous vote Monday night after the police chief described just how common handguns have become on the streets.

There were a record 71 shootings in Ottawa in last year

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau says it's becoming more common for officers to discover illegal weapons. (CBC)

The Ottawa Police Services Board voted unanimously Monday to make an official appeal for more officers after the police chief described just how common handguns have become on the streets.

The board voted to ask city council to dedicate $660,000 to hire officers assigned to the guns and gangs unit.

The hope is that the federal government will cover the ongoing cost of those positions based on a program announced in the spring budget.

City councillors will debate the request on Wednesday.

"Sadly it's become more and more common for our officers to find handguns and illegal weapons during our investigations," Chief Charles Bordeleau told the board.

"It's a reality that puts our officers and the public at risk."

Heavy workload

There were a record 71 shootings in Ottawa in 2017, surpassing the previous high of 68 in 2016.

Bordeleau outlined several cases over the last month where police seized handguns, including robberies and traffic stops.

Firearms seized during Project Sabotage displayed at Ottawa police headquarters in 2017. (Andrew Foote/CBC)

Just last weekend the drug unit seized an assault rifle and a handgun, he said.

Police have had to temporarily assign officers to the guns and gangs unit to cover the heavy workload over the last two and a half years.

If council approves the new officers, five will be assigned to help with investigations in that unit, and the rest will be assigned to the Direct Action Response Team (DART), which monitors areas particularly hard hit by gang and drug activities.

Community calls for more local officers

Ottawa also saw a 20 per cent overall increase in violent crime last year, which includes everything from homicides and attempted murder to robbery and uttering threats.

Every part of the city experienced more violence than the year before, except Kanata North.

"It's when it's in your community that you become most concerned," said Gloucester-Southgate Coun. Diane Deans.

She said there are pockets of the city that have been particularly hard hit by increased street violence and people in her ward are calling for the city to reinstate community police centres with more community officers

But Bordeleau said the city needs more officers overall and more effort put into preventing people from getting involved in gangs in the first place.

He said the new DART team officers should make a difference on that front.

"It's going to help the DART team refocus on their mandate of being out in the community, building those positive relationships with residents, with members that are associated with gangs," he said.

Over the past three years the city has hired 73 officers, and police plan to hire 90 more in the next three years.