Response to south-end shootings about more than policing, chief says

People who live in south Ottawa are asking police to increase their presence there and politicians to increase funding for the force to help make it happen.

Residents call for more police presence, return of officers embedded in neighbourhoods

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau speaks with a south Ottawa resident after a meeting on gun violence at the Greenboro Community Centre on Dec. 6, 2018. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Ottawa police Chief Charles Bordeleau says more police aren't the entire solution for rising gun violence.

At a community safety meeting Thursday night, organized in response to a recent spike in shootings, politicians and residents alike called for more police presence in the south end, including a restoration of embedded community police officers, patrol cars and security cameras.

"This is a broader issue than policing. It's a society issue. It's a community issue that we all have to work together in trying to solve from a long-term perspective," Bordeleau said.

The chief said police have increased patrols in response to the recent shootings and added 10 officers to the guns and gangs unit.

"Right now, because of the number of shootings that we've seen in this community, the south end, they fear for their safety. We understand that," he said.

Nearly 300 people attended the meeting, including councillors Diane Deans, Riley Brockington and Jean Cloutier, Mayor Jim Watson, MP David McGuinty and MPP John Fraser, along with police and crime prevention representatives.

Hundreds of people attended the meeting about gun violence in south Ottawa, and many of them asked for more of a police presence in their community. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Police encouraged residents to come forward with information about suspicious activity and crime. At that point a man interrupted the meeting, saying it was frustrating to hear the same advice after so little progress has seemed to be made with gun violence.

As of the beginning of this month, south-end neighourhoods including Ledbury, Heatherington, South Keys, Greenboro, Heron Gate, Hunt Club and Findlay Creek had seen 40 shootings so far this year — that's 52 per cent of the record 76 shootings that have occurred across the city.

'Prolific offenders' behind increase, chief says

In July, the increasing gunfire led police to launch a 10-week investigation called the South Side Project. It resulted in 15 arrests, $90,000 in seized cash, about 100 drug charges and 27 firearms charges, according to police.

Bordeleau said that reduced the number of shootings over the summer, but there has been an increase since September, including a brazen gang-related homicide in the middle of a busy South Keys mall parking lot on Black Friday.

Chief Charles Bordeleau says a solution for rising gun violence will come from addressing its underlying causes. 0:33

He said persistent demand in the illicit drug trade has contributed to that rise.

"We've had a number of individuals who are prolific offenders that have come out of jail that are back at it," Bordeleau said.

"We've also had some court decisions where individuals were acquitted of serious crimes that are back in the community, so we're seeing an uptick in that type of activity taking place."

Shift in community policing

In 2017, all 800 front-line Ottawa police officers working across three departments — patrol, neighbourhood and emergency support — were brought under one umbrella; in part, police said, to deal with staffing issues and budget constraints, and also to respond to issues more nimbly.

The number of community officers — who run community policing centres and work with volunteers — was reduced from 15 to 10, and approximately 40 neighbourhood officers, who are deployed in the field to work on problems as a team, were folded into the front-line pool.

Police now say they want to create a community response unit after a survey found most residents want to see more officers in their neighbourhoods. The still-developing plan is contingent on 30 more officers being hired next year.

Bordeleau said there are still two community police centre officers serving the south end, and that police haven't decided how many officers would go into the new community response unit.

The unit will be involved in addressing persistent problems, such as crack houses or prostitution, that may require bringing together multiple stakeholders and the councillor, he said.

'I still don't think it's enough,' Deans says

Coun. Diane Deans has been advocating for an increase to the police budget and a return to the previous community policing model.

"I still don't think it's enough. I don't think there's enough resources there," she told CBC News. "We have fantastic community resources officers, but they're spread too thin."

Deans said she'll support whatever Bordeleau deems is necessary in the police budget to get more resources into the community.

Mayor Jim Watson said he will be meeting with Premier Doug Ford to discuss whether Ontario will fund the fight against gun violence in Ottawa, as it recently did in Toronto.

He also said he expects the police budget will increase by 4.5 per cent in the coming budget.

With files from the CBC's Kristy Nease