Edmonton police swear they are using every means at their disposal to address escalating gun crime and violence.
The promise was made Thursday morning, when police agreed to take questions from media on recent shootings and also released security footage of three very public 2020 and 2021 shootings.
In one, a child is cruising down a Clareview sidewalk on a scooter when shots are fired from a passing SUV. An adult races to the child and carries them away.
In another, a group is dining at a Royal Pizza when a person who had snuck up to their window outside fires from that other side of the glass.
“The brazenness of these shootings is definitely, I would say, escalating. And why that trend is happening, we can’t tell you. But it’s definitely concerning to all of us,” Staff Sgt. Eric Stewart, who oversees the Edmonton Police Service’s firearms investigations and gang suppression teams, told reporters.
“We are definitely seeing a generation of people who aren’t afraid to go into a public place, all hours of the day, in a community, and fire a gun.”
EPS counted 158 shootings in 2020 and 150 in 2021.
Of the 2021 shootings, 72 per cent were “targeted” and 47 per cent had “gang involvement.” In nearly half of the shootings, there was potential for innocent bystanders to be harmed.
Of the 29 shootings so far counted in 2022, all but one are believed to have been “targeted,” such as, for example, two high-profile shootings earlier in the month.
On March 12, six people were hurt and another person was killed in a shooting at a lounge near 124 Street and 118 Avenue. Between 60 and 70 bullets were believed to have been shot in the event, and two people were later charged.
One day later, disreputable landlord Abdullah Shah, formerly known as Carmen Pervez, was shot dead in the driveway of his south Edmonton home. Police are looking for the driver of an SUV that fled the area at a high rate of speed shortly after the shooting.
The two shootings are not related, police say, nor do they believe Shah’s homicide could spark more violence.
Regardless, the violence represents a threat to the public when half of the shootings take place in the street, Stewart noted. Again, a little less than half of the shootings put bystanders in danger.
“It may be a targeted event but what’s happening is these individuals involved in these gun battles or gun crime aren’t thinking about what’s on the other side of that person they’re targeting.”
Stewart said EPS released videos of the older crimes – the Clareview shooting in July 2021, the Royal Pizza shooting in October 2021, and a shooting on Anthony Henday Drive in November 2020 – for two reasons.
“To show you what’s happening out there, and secondly, we’re still looking for information in relation to those shootings.”
GUN BUY-BACK PROGRAM
The police service doesn’t credit the increase in violence to gang activity, which they say naturally ebbs and flows as characters move around.
But they do note a 45-per cent increase in the number of firearms seized between 2020 and 2021. In total, 1,633 firearms were seized by Edmonton police last year.
“And when they have these firearms in their possession, they’re using them,” Stewart simply said.
Three years ago, when law enforcement agencies across North America began noticing an uptick in gun violence, EPS created the dedicated firearms investigation unit Stewart oversees. The team monitors and coordinates cases involving criminal networks, gangs and gun crime.
In 2021, EPS also created a firearms examination unit, which specializes in processing firearm evidence and performing ballistic analysis, helping police to link guns to crimes.
The units have allowed the police service to build its in-house expertise and better identify trends – and in some cases prevent targeted acts – according to Supt. Shane Perka, who is in charge of the criminal investigations division.
As well, the majority of Edmonton’s firearms are domestically trafficked, so police have cracked down on straw buyers.
But, Perka noted, as the level of violence and crime increases, so does the difficulty of policing it.
“There is a feeling of us trying to catch up and stem it and reverse that trend,” he commented.
University of Alberta criminologist Tempitope Oriola believes a temporary gun buy-back program – in which people would be paid according to the calibre of weapon they turn over, no questions asked – could help.
“This isn’t as radical as it sounds. It is something that multiple jurisdictions across North America have, in fact, experimented with in the past,” he told CTV News Edmonton.
“I’m asking for a very robust, well calibrated, well targeted approach that mops up guns from people who shouldn’t have that.”
In a statement to CTV News Edmonton, spokesperson Cheryl Voordenhout said: “Most of the firearms responsible for the crime on Edmonton streets are obtained and possessed illegally. Those using them for ill intent may not be inclined to cooperate with a voluntary program, such as a gun buy-back.”
According to Oriola, places that did run a buy-back program saw firearms brought in from the streets.
SHOOTINGS BY POLICE
The increased number of imitation guns police are finding create the potential for more use of force by police, Perka acknowledged.
Throughout 2021, police seized 693 air guns. As of March 22, EPS had seized 136 this year.
“They are so lifelike that we could put a table down in front of us right now and lay 10 guns out and three of them are imitation and three of them are real, none of us would be able to look at that and say which one is which,” he proposed.
“You transpose that into a back alley at two in the morning and all of a sudden, a police officer is in an encounter, they’ve got split seconds to make that determination.”
A month ago, police shot and killed a liquor store robbery suspect whose weapon was later confirmed to be fake. Police bullets also struck a nearby apartment building, killing an innocent resident.
“The more often we have interaction with armed people, the more you got to rely on that training and respond to the threat or the person that you’re presented with,” Perka said.
“Thankfully, the vast majority of the time, verbal direction will de-escalate the situation and nothing has to come off of their belt. But sometimes, despite verbal direction, it’s not followed, that escalated up into whether it’s CWs or Tasers or just drawing of a Taser or a firearm.”
But Oriola pointed again to the death of the apartment resident in downtown Edmonton.
“So somebody who was in the apartment, perhaps unbeknownst, not cognizant of what was going on, died in their apartment was just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Where were they supposed to be?”
Edmonton police have killed three people in 2022.
Oriola said, “I worry that we may be setting a record that we may not be proud of by the end of this year at this rate, with essentially one police killing a month. One loss of life is too many.”
With files from CTV News Edmonton’s Jeremy Thompson
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