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Gang activity among root causes of recent violent crime: Prince Albert police chief

Prince Albert police say addictions, mental health issues, gang activity and poverty continue to be significant causal factors to violent crime in the city.
Prince Albert police say addictions, mental health issues, gang activity and poverty continue to be significant causal factors to violent crime in the city. File Photo / Global News

The chief of police in Prince Albert, Sask., addressed recent violent crime in the city and efforts being made to combat it.

Prince Albert has seen six homicides involving eight deaths, including two children, so far in 2020.

Read more: Man found dead in Prince Albert, Sask., after report of gunshots

“We have made arrests in all but two homicide files from this year and continue to investigate. Our police service has responded to other shootings and serious calls this year with ongoing investigations that include suspicious circumstances related to a missing person and one person also remains in hospital with serious and life-threatening injuries,” Chief Jonathan Bergen Bergen said on Thursday.

“The death or serious injury of anyone caused by violence is its own tragedy and we express our sentiments and condolences to the families and friends of all those involved. Any level of violence in our community is concerning and I want to tell the public that as a police service, we are fully committed to combat crime and arrest those responsible and we know that we must do all we can to prevent violence in our city.

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“Many of these incidents don’t appear to be random and we’re not able to confirm at this point whether any of them are related.”

Prince Albert police said statistics up to Sept. 30 show officers have responded to over 31,000 calls for service this year, compared to just over 29,000 in 2019.

Addictions, mental health issues, gang activity and poverty continue to be significant causal factors to violent crime in Prince Albert, according to police.

“With the major incidents that we’re reviewing very closely and examining, we do see that there’s a number of issues, root cause issues … gang activity is definitely an issue in a number of these serious incidents but addictions and mental health issues are also at the forefront,” Bergen said.

“We are already actively participating in discussions with various levels of governments and community groups to find solutions to the various factors that lead to criminal activity. Drugs and alcohol addictions, mental health issues are all significant factors and therefore, we know connecting people with other resources is important.

“We are continually reviewing all trends and patterns to crime in our city and we will continue to do our best to be fully responsible with our resources to meet the needs of the community and respond to all threats to public safety.”

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Read more: Half-brother charged in homicide of 3-year-old girl: Prince Albert police

Bergen added police are seeing more gun violence, with officers seizing over 100 firearms so far in 2020. The police force believes that many times, unlawful possession occurs after firearms are obtained or stolen from legal gun owners and then modified for illicit purposes.

“Typically, the majority of these firearms that we see were once lawfully owned firearms that are altered and often cut down for the purpose of concealment … it’s a trend that we’ve observed over the last several years,” Bergen said.

“We see more often that somebody is carrying a firearm for some sort of self-defence reason or other reason that they think it’s necessary. And so it’s important us to make sure that we’re, I guess, responding safely when we think that’s going to be a factor but also making sure to hold each person accountable through the courts.”

In response to recent incidents, the police force has chosen members for a new select enforcement team that will focus on crime suppression and proactive enforcement.

“When we examine the gun violence in our city, we see that these incidents are not random. And most often the suspect and victim are known to each other. Violence has a lasting effect on the community and we acknowledge this and we are all concerned,” Bergen said.

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“Our goal as a police service is always to get ahead of crime through proactive policing rather than just responding to violence. With that in mind, we have recently selected experienced members of our new select enforcement team that will focus on crime suppression, including gang activity and proactive enforcement.

“This team will support our patrol shifts and be deployed at key times. This is in addition to our continued efforts to address crime trends through high visibility neighbourhood patrols, foot patrols, police and crisis team, canine units, integrated crime reduction team, street enforcement teams, along with our community partnerships.”

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The police chief said it’s going to take a collaborative effort to combat gang activity.

“That’s going to take a whole community. It’s really something that we’re supporting from the province all the way down,” Bergen said.

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“But there’s also so much more that we have to do through education and making sure that there’s the proper supports and resources in place. And we see that through initiatives that have been started or have rolled out from the province, such as the gang violence reduction strategy. So those are all very, very important … but enforcement through our integrated crime reduction team it is a significant part of that commitment.

“Our staff are incredible people. When we have to respond to a major incident, a difficult, violent offence that has its toll on the community but definitely our staff as well. We’re very committed and you see that in our deployment on any major crime and when there is a higher-than-normal amount of these incidents, it can be draining. But I can tell you, the commitment is unwavered and our staff are fully engaged to resolving each incident by holding the offenders accountable and concluding each with a charge.”