A new task force aimed at muzzling a recent rise in local gun activity made its first series of arrests and weapon seizures in London, Ont., last week.
The Crime Gun Task Force was launched by the London Police Service in late March after an annual report on officers’ use of force revealed the number of people police dealt with who were carrying a firearm jumped to 104 in 2020, up from 39 in 2019.
So far in 2021, London police have responded to at least 10 reported shootings or incidents of shots fired, with dozens of guns and replica guns seized by officers.
Rick Robson, the executive of the London Police Association, described the uptick as something he hadn’t witnessed during his time as an officer.
“It would be very, very rare, even two or three years ago, (for) a uniformed officer to come across any type of weapon,” Robson said.
“To see over 20, already this year, is simply unprecedented.”
London police’s latest weapons seizures were carried out by the Crime Gun Task Force in a series of searches during the week of April 11 to April 17.
Searches on Simcoe Street and Dundee Place saw officers charge 4 Londoners and seize a loaded .22-calibre rifle, gun components and various amounts of ammunition.
A search at a home in northeast London yielded two handguns and left a man and a woman facing several weapons-related offences.
The task force also launched an investigation after a 17-year-old boy suffered an apparent gunshot wound during a shooting on Walker Street, the second shooting there since March.
Deputy Chief Stuart Betts says while the task force is making progress, it’s still too early to assume what’s fuelling London’s rise in gun activity.
“We try not to narrow our perspective too finely on what may be leading to things,” Betts said.
“We certainly do focus on safety and we focus on the fact that many of the firearms that are coming into our city are coming from people that live outside the city of London.”
Prior to the task force’s creation, London police were involved in Project WEAVER, an OPP-led joint operation that dismantled four criminal networks trafficking guns and drugs in the London-area, Brant and Hamilton.
Thirty-one firearms, 81 grenades and 22 other prohibited devices were seized in the operation that left 10 people facing a combined total of 268 charges.
Betts says the task force focuses on intelligence gathering and collecting tips from the public.
Police plan to keep the public informed as more information regarding gun activity comes to light.
“It would be premature to say that this has a finite timeline,” Betts added.
“This task force will exist for as long as necessary.”