Murder and gun violence down in Toronto this year, but fewer homicides solved

In the past year, 61 people lost their lives in the city and 382 were victims of gun violence — both crimes, say Toronto Police Service, a decrease from 2016. But the number of cleared homicides has plummeted.

Amid a number of high-profile unsolved deaths, the police chief is confident numbers will bounce back

Toronto's year-end crime stats show a slight increase in all major crime categories except shootings and homicides. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

In the past year, 61 people lost their lives in the city and 382 were victims of gun violence — both totals, say Toronto Police Service, a decrease from 2016.

But assaults and auto theft were up slightly, and the number of homicide cases that remain unsolved has grown.

The year-end stats accompany a barrage of high-profile unsolved deaths in the city in recent months, including the murder of Tess Richey and the suspicious deaths of Barry and Honey Sherman.

Thirty-six murder cases remain unsolved. 

Only about 40 percent of this year's homicides were cleared by police, down from about 65 percent in 2015. 

Year-end stats not that important, says chief

But Police Chief Mark Saunders argued that the year-end statistics are ultimately arbitrary.

When asked why the number of unsolved cases has swelled, Saunders aimed to quell fears. "The short, boring answer is nothing is happening," he said.

Saunders says police ultimately do solve most of those cases, citing 2015's clearance rate as "phenomenally high" for a large city. Focusing on the annual clearance rate, he stressed, is often overblown.

"When we have homicides it's not a good day in the city of Toronto. The loss of life, we don't take lightly. But we've got to educate the public a little more."

Police still looking for suspects in mysterious deaths

Last month, the body of 22-year-old Tess Richey was found in the Church-Wellesley neighbourhood. Her family says her body was discovered by her mother just steps from where she was last seen.

Richey had been out with an old high school friend who last saw her early Saturday morning. She was found dead one day before what would have been her 23rd birthday. 

Police say they believe Richey was in the company of an "unknown" male when her friend left the area. Investigators are still looking to identify the male.

Security camera images of man Toronto police would like to speak to regarding the death of 22-year-old Tess Richey. (Toronto Police Service)

Richey's death echoed a number of other chilling incidents to hit the area in 2017, including the discovery of Alloura Wells's body, found in a nearby park in August, and a number of people reported missing. 

Toronto's most recent suspicious death case involving billionaire couple Barry and Honey Sherman, who were found dead by strangulation in their home, still has investigators stumped.

'These crimes are solved by community'

Despite the number of open cases, Saunders says he's confident not only in the police force, but in civilians. Saunders credits what he calls strong relationships with Toronto residents as the primary factor in a high clearance rate for violent crimes. 

"These crimes are solved by community. They're not solved by police," he said, pointing to the reliance of investigators on witnesses willing to take an oath and give statements. 

Andrew Kinsman went missing in June, and he was last seen in the area of Parliament Street and Winchester Street. (Toronto Police Service)

"We can bang on doors all day but you get a lot more done when people are willing to come to you."

Scot Wortley, a criminologist at the University of Toronto, agrees — but thinks Toronto police need to work harder at undoing damage from years of so-called "street checks" in various communities. 

"The relationship between police and members of some communities is not very trustworthy right now," Wortley said.

That's a problem, he adds, since strained ties "could hurt clearance rates and the quality of criminal investigations."