EDITORIAL: Proactive community police work around gun violence could support a reduced crime rate

By Hilary Laffrenier

Ottawa has witnessed a surge in gun violence in recent years, leaving the city’s police services searching for answers.

But the answer is clear: Ottawa needs a more proactive approach to dealing with violent crime, starting with early prevention.

According to a report by Crime Prevention Ottawa, 2014 and 2015 saw a total of 49 and 46 gun-related offences respectively.

But in 2016, the same year that Ottawa was named the safest city in Canada for the second time in a row, the annual gun-violence tally rose sharply to 68 shootings.

This grim record was broken yet again with 69 shootings in 2017. And in just the first few weeks of 2018, there have already been 11 gun-related incidents, leaving residents across the city concerned for their safety and local officials scrambling to respond.

One of this year’s incidents happened in Centretown. Adam Perron, 22, was shot in his own apartment at 125 McLeod St. Perron died en route to hospital and police recently obtained a Canada-wide warrant for homicide suspect Ali Omar Mohamed.

Even in neighbourhoods not usually frequented by violent crime, more incidents are being reported. In just eight days, two shootings took place in suburban Bells Corners, which residents describe as a generally peaceful neighbourhood.

This rise in gun-related crime doesn’t come as a surprise to the Ottawa Police. According to the force’s latest annual report, which provides statistics for 2016, the level of overall reported crime in the city grew by 6.8 per cent.

Included in the 2016 report was an acknowledgement by police that they need to reconsider their approach.

Matt Skof, president of the Ottawa Police Association, said the OPS has restructured its force in a way that actually distances officers from the communities they are supposed to be serving. He has stated that deployment changes have taken officers away from the kinds of proactive police work in communities that might actually prevent violent criminal activity from taking root.

A good example of such work was Const. Brad Burleau’s immersion in the Jasmine Crescent area in 2014. The neighbourhood had been the site of three homicides and several shootings, prompting the OPS to prioritize crime prevention efforts in the community.

This involved getting better support and resources for the area, organizing community events, establishing a Neighbourhood Watch program, and creating the Jasmine Community Safety Committee. In an OPS report, the program led by Burleau is said to have reduced crime and significantly increased safety in the area.

Another critical approach to curbing gun violence is addressing the deep structural conditions that actually lead to criminal activity and victimization in the first place, such as poverty, inadequate housing, and poor access to education.

When families have the resources they need, children and teens are raised in favourable conditions and are offered better opportunities — all of which encourage them to stay out of trouble.

Insp. Mark Patterson, part of the Ottawa Police criminal investigations directorate, recently said of the increase in gun violence: “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.”

He’s right.

Ottawa’s police officers need to be working more closely with at-risk communities to ensure open lines of communication and adequate resources, helping to eliminate the root causes that foster criminal behaviour.