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Hamilton shooting incidents on track to reach 10-year high, police say

Hamilton police on scene after the city's 10th homicide at a Billiards club on York Street. The victim was shot dead on scene. Lisa Polewski / Global News

Hamilton will finish 2019 with its highest number of year-over-year shootings in a decade, according to police.

As of November, the city has seen 42 shooting incidents, which is already 40 per cent more than 2018’s final tally of 25.

However, it appears the 2019 number will be on par with 2017 numbers, when Hamilton had 41 reported shooting incidents.

READ MORE: Fatal shooting at billiards club Hamilton’s 10th homicide of 2019: police

Deputy Chief Frank Bergen told Global News that although they don’t take any shooting lightly, more than half of the shots fired were “errant rounds” and not necessarily meant to do harm.

Case-by-case reports of the 42 shooting incidents indicate that many of the shootings were connected to what Bergen calls “loose gang activity,” involving home invasions, stolen vehicles and store robberies.

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“I think it’s of note to say that we’ve had seven homicides related to that, and in total there have been 12 homicides in our area,” said Bergen.

“But of the 42 shootings, 23 of them have actually been at a car, at a building, or maybe to prove a point or to establish a territory and there has been no victim attached to that.”

Hamilton police case studies show that gun crime in the city is typically associated with the trafficking of drugs — particularly fentanyl, according to Bergen.

“I can tell you as a police officer, I saw that with the introduction of cocaine and the shift to crack cocaine and how that, in fact, changed the landscape and introduced the violence,” Bergen says.

“What we’re seeing, again, is a resurgence of violence, because fentanyl has been able to take crack cocaine and again multiply it by many layers.

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“So it’s a drug culture thing. It’s not a domestic violence issue.”

Another challenge for investigators in the battle against gun violence is a lack of witnesses when trying to charge suspects, according to Bergen. He says the Nov. 16 shooting at Sheila’s Place/Ellis Kitchen on King St. East is an example of bystanders not coming forward.

“We watched a clear video that indicated that a gaggle of people are standing on a sidewalk in the early hours in the morning. They witnessed first-hand a shooting,” Bergen said.

“That is completely unacceptable — unacceptable that these people, also within this [drug] culture, are not cooperating with the investigations and do not give any evidence to us or any forward clues.”
Click to play video 'Hamilton Police release video from attempted murder at local bar' Hamilton Police release video from attempted murder at local bar
Hamilton Police release video from attempted murder at local bar – Nov 18, 2019

READ MORE: Hamilton police release security footage of Sheila’s Place shooting suspect

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More troubling statistics for Hamilton is the high number of violent crimes where a firearm is reported.

Statistics Canada numbers from 2009 to 2017 show that Hamilton is consistently a top-five city in Canada when it comes to reported firearm-related violent crime.

The last reported year (2017) put Hamilton at number four on the list, with 38.7 reported incidents per 100,000 people. Only Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and Regina had more firearm-related crime per capita.

But Bergen says it’s not just a Hamilton problem. Officers and investigators are in constant contact with peers in York Region, Niagara, Halton and Peel, he says, due to connections between multiple crimes in multiple jurisdictions.

“It doesn’t just stay within the geographical footprint of one city,” said Bergen

“That transit nature, our geographical location within the Golden Horseshoe, is problematic. We’re finding that in our shootings, in our analysis, to your point is there are connections to the York region, to the Peel region and into Niagara.”

READ MORE: Hamilton double murder suspect David Thomson found dead in Brantford hotel: police

The task of reducing gun violence in the city ultimately rests on help from the public, according to Bergen.

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“In many cases, much like what we’ve talked about on the streets, when nobody comes forward, yeah, we can use video evidence, we can maybe pick up partial license plates and car descriptions,” Bergen said.

“But we do need the public’s assistance. Quite often it’s that that makes the difference between actually a resolution that, in fact, can stem the flow of violence.”