Crime trends in Calgary expected to continue after ‘anomolous’ 2020: CPS chief

A Calgary Police Service officer is seen Tuesday, April 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Crime in Calgary had an odd year in 2020, according to the annual report from the Calgary Police Service.

“2020 was and will be a statistical anomaly due to COVID-19,” CPS Chief Mark Neufeld said. “The sudden and significant changes to the social dynamic of society, including things like office closures, the shutting of businesses, closures of public spaces, restrictions on gatherings and sweeping travel restrictions had significant short-term impact on people’s activities and resulting crime and disorder.”

Crimes that had been trending upward in previous years saw double-digit decreases in 2020. Violent crimes dropped by 11 per cent compared to 2019 and property crimes were down 16 per cent in the same period.

However, 34 homicides in 2020 marked a 28 per cent jump from the year prior, and 26 per cent more shootings happened in the city, totalling 112 in the year.

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“Shootings do remain a concern for us in Calgary,” Neufeld told the city’s community and protective services committee. “And as you know, considerable effort was put into suppressing gangs and organized crime activities in 2020. In previous years, gang-related incidents made up over half of the shootings that took place in Calgary.

“Although the total numbers of shootings were up, closer analysis reveals that the percentage of those shootings that were connected to gang or organized crime had reduced from around 50 per cent to just 16 per cent in 2020,” Neufeld said.

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The report showed 1,191 guns had been seized by police in 2020, with 507 categorized as crime guns — “a firearm that’s lawfully seized in a criminal investigation that is unlawfully used, possessed or stored.”

“That said, the majority of weapons involved in shootings are handguns,” Neufeld said.

Neufeld said many of those handguns were from “straw buyers.”

“Where individuals with no criminal record … are going to Cabela’s and gun stores and amassing 14 or 15 firearms and then selling them, presumably selling them to organized crime. And these guns are showing up out on the street,” the police chief said.

Domestic violence in Calgary was an outlier from other Canadian cities, the police chief added.

Click to play video: 'Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld discusses transit disorder, recent crimes and recruiting'
Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld discusses transit disorder, recent crimes and recruiting

“While there was a marked increase in citizens calling police to attend non-criminal domestic violence calls, Calgary did not see the increase in domestic violence reporting that was evident in some other jurisdictions — and we knew that from reports in other jurisdictions there was potential for that to happen,” Neufeld said.

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“We put a significant prevention effort into awareness campaigns and working closely with our partners to try to address that potential proactively. As such, the numbers indicate that people were calling for assistance and support, but prior to violent acts being committed.”

The police chief expects the pre-pandemic crime trends to continue as pandemic conditions lift and the economy recovers.

“Research shows that emotional distress during economic downturns results in a higher drug and alcohol consumption, and that in turn can result in increases in criminal activity,” the police chief said. “We have observed similar increases during previous downturns in the Calgary economy.”

The CPS projects residential break and enters, drug-related violence and offences, gun violence and thefts to trend upward.

Neufeld also said calls relating to social disorder, mental health, suicide, addictions and domestic violence will likely increase in the coming years, but that CPS is trying to address how those calls are responded to through budget reallocations and the Community Safety Investment Framework.

Click to play video: 'Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld discusses current law enforcement challenges'
Calgary police chief Mark Neufeld discusses current law enforcement challenges

The prospect of those trends rising was a concern for committee chair and Ward 9 Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra, but he says he trusts the work the CPS is doing.

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“I’m concerned about them, but I’m also gratified that we have a forward-looking police service that’s sort of on top of that and isn’t just getting subsumed in a wave of whatever is coming at us,” Carra said.

Carra pointed to Calgary’s relatively low crime rates when compared to other Canadian cities, saying the city “is punching above its weight in terms of being an exceptional example.”

The number of protests and demonstrations police attended and monitored took a big jump in 2020. According to CPS, 699 of those events occurred last year.

Neufeld, who has previously spoken to the police’s duty to protect the right to protest, said criticisms leveled at the police came from all sides.

“Along the way, it didn’t seem to matter what we did, in the eyes of some it was too much and in the eyes of others, it was never enough,” Neufeld told the committee.

“Most recently, the third wave here has been the most challenging wave. And I don’t know if that’s because people are just at their wit’s end or what it is.”

Read highlights from the report below:

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