An increase in shootings and homicides in 2022 has Calgary police stepping up their efforts to get the violence on Calgary streets under control.
The gunplay is once again happening in very public spaces.
“The police are always concerned when we’ve got rounds being fired,” Calgary Police Service (CPS) Supt. Cliff O’Brien said. “Even though they may be a targeted attack we still have rounds going not where the shooter intended.”
As of mid-April police said there had already been more than fifty shootings including nearly a dozen homicides. Officials believe approximately 25 per cent of those are connected with organized crime and are tied to targeted shootings.
“We are again bolstering our plans to deal with these crimes as they are a priority for us,” said CPS Insp. Jody Gach in a April 21 news conference. “This involves a coordinated effort from many areas of the service including our investigative areas, enforcement, suppression as well as community engagement.”
The news conference was held the day after 24-year-old Hisham Ahmed was killed in a targeted shooting in the northeast community of Saddle Ridge. Two days after that news conference police announced they had located a suspect vehicle but no arrests had been made.
“Right now we’re investigating this as a homicide and (Ahmed) is a victim of that homicide,” CPS Staff Sgt. Sean Gregson said. “We are in collaboration with all of our partners within the service to determine who (his) friends are and associates.”
Ahmed’s death is just one in a handful of shootings this year that have left families heartbroken and looking for answers.
Two weeks earlier, 26-year-old Majed Zulfiqar died after he and an unidentified person left a popular restaurant on 16 Avenue and 2 Street N.W.
Police said Zulfiqar and the driver were shot at while sitting in their parked SUV. The driver then called 911 while they raced towards the hospital but stopped blocks away when first responders tried to help them. Investigators said Zulfiqar suffered multiple gunshot wounds and died at the scene.
Just two weeks prior to that shooting another targeted attack took place on March 21, leaving 20-year-old Ali Al-Aqal dead.
Witnesses told police Al-Aqal was stopped at a red light on 16 Avenue and 3 Street N.W. when someone in another vehicle pulled up beside him, exited the vehicle and fired several rounds before speeding away. Some of the bullets hit a nearby fence and a garage.
“We’ve seen some just scary video of multiple rounds fired on a quiet residential street where you know our families are sleeping,” O’Brien said. “When these people are out there and shooting rounds off into our communities, it puts people at risk.”
“Looking at some of the surveillance videos, these are not practiced shooters, these are not skilled shooters and it’s scary.”
So far police have not linked any of these shootings and have been tight-lipped about the possible motivations behind the homicides only saying organized crime makes up a small percentage of the gunplay currently taking place in Calgary.
“What we’ve seen … in the recent past, is shooting activities, sometimes organized crime, sometimes just different groups, often because of drugs or a hatred for each other,” O’Brien said. “We have over a thousand predatory offenders in our city that we’re doing our best to monitor.”
O’Brien and other justice experts agree that gang ties and structures have also changed over the years.
“In the past we saw people that would wear paraphernalia that would have their gang name on it or perhaps they wore a certain colour or whatnot,” O’Brien explained. “We’re not seeing that now and I’m not even sure if the allegiances are even that strong.”
“Sometimes what we see is conflict going on within a group and that’s because the group is really just an association,” he said. “People will come and go and if you think about that, it actually causes more angst because you don’t trust the person sitting beside you.”
As the public looks to make sense of the heightened criminal activity Mount Royal University justice studies professor Doug King said a coordinated effort is needed to bring the violence under control.
“You’re never going to get rid of gang activity, you’re never going to get rid of the occasional blip of violence,” King said. “What you have to do, is when it happens, you have to deal with it and I think that’s the point where we’re at right now. We’ve got to deal with it right now.”
“Gang activity is like an infection. If you don’t keep treating it, it just keeps coming back.”
Unfortunately, the numbers show this level of violence isn’t unusual for Calgary.
According to a report released last year by the community-based Public Safety Task Force violent crime has been increasing since 2016 and there were 511 shootings between 2015 and 2020. Of those shootings, 54 per cent were targeted.
“A closer examination of these targeted shootings reveals that over half were motivated by the drug trade while 13 per cent were motivated by disputes between gangs,” the report reads. “On average, between 2015 and 2020, one in five victims, and 16 per cent of identified suspects were between the ages of 19 and 25 years of age.”
King said with COVID-19 restrictions lifting criminal activity and violence also seems to be picking up steam.
“Now that we’re coming out of the pandemic we’re starting to see crime rates go up,” he said. “A lot of what we’re dealing with now is, ‘Oh, we forgot about the crime. We forgot about the violence that takes place in a community like Calgary.”