Gun crime numbers misleading, police say
“We’ll get these blips where we have a rush (of shooting deaths) for a month or so and then eventually it evens itself out at the end of the year.”
The recent spate of homicides at the midway point of summer 2007 might give the impression Toronto is on track to match or perhaps surpass the record number of fatal shootings in 2005 — but the acting head of the homicide squad says perceptions can be misleading.
“We’ll get these blips where we have a rush for a month or so and then eventually it evens itself out at the end of the year,” Det.-Sgt. Peter Callaghan said yesterday as the city’s homicide toll rose to 48.
More than half the homicides, 25, have been gun-related, which has drawn comparisons to summer 2005, when the homicide rate stood at 39 by this time. “But then we had a big increase in homicides in August and that’s where the expression the Summer Of The Gun came from,” Callaghan said. Toronto recorded 11 homicides that August.
Last year, Toronto had recorded 43 homicides by the end of July.
It’s significant, however, that overall shootings are continuing on a downward trend up until this point in the year, says Toronto police spokesman Mark Pugash. There’s also been a reduction in the number of shooting victims over the past three years.
“Gun violence is down, but there are still a small number of people engaging in high-risk behaviour and shooting at each other.”
To date, the homicide squad has made arrests in 65.9 per cent of this year’s 48 homicides, a drop from the beginning of July when the “clearance” rate was above 70 per cent. Still, Callaghan is optimistic that as the year plays out “it will return to around the 70 per cent as we start to get a handle on these most recent cases.”
Callaghan says there doesn’t seem to be a pattern to recent fatal shootings. He said he’s optimistic the “strategies” Toronto police have in place, such as blanketing an area with officers from one of the Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy rapid response teams, typically helps to “return that community to some sense of normalcy, then it pops up somewhere else, but, generally, over time the crime pattern is fairly consistent.”
Still, responding to violence is costly and taxes resources at a time when the city is in a budget crunch.
“It’s certainly tough when we have a blip in a short period of time, but our folks are resilient and we ... always manage to find the resources somewhere to tackle the problem,” he said.