By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — The police chief in Manitoba’s capital says the number of homicides doubled last year as the city experienced an alarming increase in bold criminal activity.
“It has been a remarkable year for our community in terms of crime and crime statistics,” said Winnipeg police Chief Danny Smyth. “The level of brazen crime we experienced is alarming.”
The 2019 statistical reports released Friday showed 20,878 offences related to violent crimes — four per cent higher than 2018 and 17 per cent higher than the five-year average.
There were 44 homicides — up from the average of 22.
“There were several homicides where the victims were children, and we’ve had homicides where the suspects were children,” Smyth said.
He pointed to the death of 17-year-old Jaime Adao Jr. who was killed trying to protect his grandmother when a man broke into their home. The chief also spoke of three-year-old Hunter Haze Straight-Smith who was fatally stabbed while sleeping in his bed.
Four of last year’s homides are still unsolved.
Smyth said while Manitoba doesn’t experience the same number of shootings as other jurisdictions, officers are coming across guns more often.There was a 38 per cent increase in firearms offences.
“We are encountering firearms in the community pretty routinely now. I don’t think a week goes by where we don’t arrest somebody that’s in possession of a firearm.”
Property crime offences were up 15 per cent — 48 per cent higher than the five-year average. There were significant increases in theft, fraud and possession of stolen property.
Almost 30 per cent of all thefts reported were from liquor stores.
Smyth said police worked with Manitoba Liquor and Lotteries to stem the rising rate of robberies. He expects the numbers have gone down significantly this year since the stores increased security at front entrances and now require ID before anyone is allowed inside.
Increasing violent crime has put pressure on the force, the chief said, and resources have been moved to the front lines from special projects, traffic enforcement and school education.
Smyth said the good news is that police have built stronger relationships with Indigenous community support groups such as the Bear Clan Patrol.
Drug offences has dropped by 18 per cent as police have focused more on traffickers and suppliers rather than on laying charges for personal possession. Smyth has publicly advocated for decriminalizing possession.
The chief said police are doing the best they can with the resources they have. He has always advocated for more funding directed at social services and addictions, he added.
“We are in the middle of experiencing upwards trends in crime. There’s no way of getting around that,” he said. “But I think our response has been balanced and has been strategic.”
The province announced Friday that it is making available $160,000 from the Federal Proceeds of Crime Fund to support prevention programs such as community patrols and Crime Stoppers.