Ottawa's violent crime rate jumped in 2017

Shootings, sexual assaults and verbal harassment contributed to a 20 per cent jump in the capital's violent crime rate last year, according to the Ottawa Police Service's latest annual report.

Mayor calls for tougher gun penalties as shootings rise

Ottawa police respond to a shooting on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. Shootings that didn't result in injury rose last year, according to the police service's latest annual report. (Stephane Beaudoin/CBC)

Shootings, sexual assaults and verbal harassment contributed to a 20 per cent jump in the capital's violent crime rate last year, according to the Ottawa Police Service's latest annual report.

In total, 6,359 violent crimes including homicide, sexual assault and verbal threats were reported in 2017, an increase of 1,121 from the previous year.

While there were fewer homicides in 2017 than there were in 2016, the number of shootings that didn't result in injuries rose, as did the violent crime severity index — a scale used to compare the seriousness of offences that occur in a given year — from 56 in 2016 to 58 in 2017.

Despite that, the report attributes the sharp increase in 2017 to "a rise in uttering threats, harassing communications, assaults and sexual violations due to internal process changes, greater public awareness and improved access to reporting online."

(Ottawa Police Service )

Mayor wants tougher gun penalties

Mayor Jim Watson said while he doesn't believe the rise indicates a trend in the city, the statistics are worrisome nonetheless.

He said police have told him shootings are usually targeted and gang-related, but that's cold comfort for the communities where they take place. 

"We have to continuously put pressure on those individuals who are wreaking havoc in our streets and brandishing guns and firing at random," the mayor told reporters Thursday following the report's release.

"They have to be brought to the justice system and quite frankly, the punishment has to be more severe," Watson said. "It has to act as a deterrent. They shouldn't be out on parole in three or four years because it's a first offence."

Watson also called for more to be done to stop the flow of guns from the United States over the border into Canada.

Minor incidents escalate quickly

According to Crime Prevention Ottawa, a major contributor to the growing gunplay is the fact that the weapons are no longer a novelty among young people.

After speaking with residents in communities affected by gun violence, the organization found relatively minor incidents often escalate quickly.

"Many of the violent incidents we're seeing, anecdotally, are associated with very minor insults and disputes which then escalate to serious injuries or deadly force," said executive director Nancy Worsfold.

Worsfold called for more resources to prevent youth from getting involved in gangs in the first place, but said that can only occur if police are adequately staffed.

Call for more officers

The mayor is proposing to hire 10 new police officers this year, with the hope that the federal government will pick up the $600,000 cost as part of a funding promise made in the last federal budget.

Some councillors may want to look at putting more money into prevention initiatives.

But both need to be properly funded, said community and protective services committee chair Coun. Diane Deans.

"We have a significant increase in violent crime right now and our police service is under resourced," She said. "We need those 10 direct entry officers urgently."

Crime Prevention Ottawa plans to ask for more money when council puts together its 2019 budget.

On Monday, the Ottawa Police Services Board will discuss both the annual report and the request for new officers.

The earliest the officers could be hired is October.

With files from the CBC's Joanne Chianello and Laura Osman