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WINNIPEG - Police Chief Keith McCaskill says battling the city’s record number of homicides will be a task that goes beyond the police service.

"Homicides are often difficult crimes to prevent," he said at a press conference Monday afternoon.

Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill


Winnipeg police Chief Keith McCaskill

McCaskill said there’s no "magic bullet" which will put a stop to the unenviable rate, but over the next two weeks the force will unveil a strategic plan designed to combat violent crime. McCaskill did not discuss specifics of what the plan will entail. 

While some blame increased gang activity for fuelling the violence,  McCaskill said he can't explain why homicides are on the rise this year. Many of them were not premeditated and most victims had some form of relationship with their alleged killer, he said.

"A lot of these people are in high-risk lifestyles, whether it's alcoholism or addictions," said McCaskill, who added that 30 of the 34 homicides have been solved.

"Winnipeg does have a crime problem, like any major city, but . . . people shouldn't be afraid that they're going to be a homicide victim."

Policing is only one part of the solution, McCaskill said. There have been 11 youths arrested for homicide-related offences over the last year -- some were as young as 13. An 11-year-old was recently arrested for armed robbery, McCaskill added.

"There is definitely a social issue in this city. If we want to attack the violent crime situation, we have to do it, not only from a policing perspective, but from a social perspective."

Police in Edmonton unveiled a nine-part plan this August which outlined specific ways officers planned to crack down on violent crime, though the chief told media it would take three to five years to see results.

Winnipeg has an oft-noted reputation for being the violent crime capital of Canada. The city's reputation was further reinforced recently when Air Canada decided to stop putting its layover crews up in downtown Winnipeg hotels due to safety concerns.

Premier Greg Selinger said any murder in Winnipeg is one murder too many.

While the NDP has promised to get 100 more police officers on Manitoba streets, Selinger insisted many of the measures the province has taken to fight crime are already working. Manitoba's gang prosecution unit has successfully achieved 1,400 convictions to put 993 people behind bars, he said.

"It is very, very tragic that we have 34 homicides," Selinger told the legislature. "We have to do more about it and we will."

Mike Sutherland, head of the Winnipeg Police Association, said the violence is being fuelled by gangs and organized crime. Winnipeg police grappled with a rash of firebombings and shootings during the summer as rival bikers tried to corner the city's drug trade.

"I don't want to call it an outright gang war but there have been hostilities between various organized crime factions," Sutherland said. "I would say there has been certainly some spillover in terms of the overall level of criminal violence this year and, of course, that's translated into the higher homicide numbers."

The homicides this year are taking their toll on officers, he added. It's become more difficult to convict suspects in court, so detectives have to spend more time on paperwork and on chasing "non-suspects" to prove they have the right person in custody.

Manitoba's attorney general says the violence that has put the province's capital on track to set a record for the number of homicides this year is unacceptable.

Andrew Swan was reacting in the legislature Monday to a bloody weekend in which two men were shot to death in Winnipeg. That pushed the number of homicides to 34, which ties the record set by the city in 2004.

Swan said those responsible for the killings will be brought to justice.

"The violence taking place on our streets is unacceptable," he said. "We have said that people are entitled to be safe on their streets, in their homes, in their communities.

"We will not take our eye off the ball of continuing to support our police."

The police service has already pulled officers from other units and is bringing in former homicide investigators to help deal with the workload, Sutherland said.

Winnipeg now trails only Edmonton and Toronto in homicides this year.Edmonton has already hit a record of 40 deaths. The city's police chief said 65 per cent of the cases have been solved, but some will need to be investigated well into 2012.

Toronto has had 39 homicides so far this year.