City police are slowly gaining a better understanding of how and why guns end up on Calgary streets thanks to the firearms investigative unit. Still, they are unable to determine where about half of the so-called crime guns they recover come from.
The investigative unit began as a pilot program in 2020, which is when the Calgary Police Service began gathering data about crime guns, which police define as a firearm that was used, stored or possessed unlawfully.
“The crime gun investigations and shooting investigations are very different, but they play off each other,” said acting Staff Sgt. Ben Lawson. “So what the firearms investigative unit is doing is looking at the gun as a source.”
Canada-wide, gun violence has been on the rise. According to Statistics Canada, criminal use of firearms increased 81 per cent between 2009 and 2019.
Police have recorded 58 shootings so far this year in Calgary, and police have uncovered more 168 crime guns, compared with 276 guns in the same period last year.
Lawson said that comparison becomes complex upon a closer look. The situation looks like it’s improved over 2020 only because last May police seized 72 firearms as a part of one file.
“That’s a problem with short-term numbers,” Lawson said.
Because the unit has only two years of data, trends are still emerging. But so far, Lawson said they are learning more about the illegal gun trade landscape in Calgary.
Trends for crime guns in 2021:
- 53% had no determined source.
- 23% were lawfully owned.
- 9% were from break-ins.
- 5% were smuggled in.
- 3% were trafficked.
- 1% were 3D printed or homemade
Tackling gun violence in Calgary requires a multi-pronged approach that one expert says involves more than just the police. Mount Royal University associate professor Kelly Sundberg says all levels of government need to play a part.
“If we don’t have investment across the entire criminal justice system … this is where we start to see the complications and the frustrations that I think the public express,” Sundberg said. “These frustrations often are pointing toward the police, where, in fact, the breakdown in the criminal justice system comes at lacking the resources at the court level and the prosecution, for example.”
And those sorts of investments, he suggests, should start at the border.
According to the Canada Border Services Agency, 955 firearms were confiscated at the border in the 2021-22 fiscal year. Pre-pandemic, in the 2018-19 fiscal year, there were 696 gun seizures.
“On a national level, I think that there has to be an examination of the Canada Border Services role in curbing gun gun violence in this country,” Sundberg said.
In Calgary, and across Canada, one of police’s best sources for information is the public. But, increasingly, there’s a lack of trust standing in the way.
“Without the public’s help, the police are at a real disadvantage in their ability to take effective action,” Sundberg said.
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