December 14, 2018

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Under the gun

There were just nine days in 2017 without reports of firearms sightings in Winnipeg

In all but nine days last year, police responded to gun reports on the streets of Winnipeg — calls that took them to every area of the city, from the downtown core to the North End and Tuxedo to Fort Garry.

Day after day in 2017, gun reports, which are called in when a firearm is spotted and illegal activity suspected, streamed into the Winnipeg Police Service call centre, reaching a peak April 22, 2017, with 11 reports.

The calls took officers to every corner of Winnipeg, suggesting few neighbourhoods are devoid of guns and immune to the crime that can accompany them.

That’s the picture painted by data obtained by the Free Press through a freedom of information request, which shows guns are being seen — and heard — throughout the city at a pace some residents may find surprising.

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In all but nine days last year, police responded to gun reports on the streets of Winnipeg — calls that took them to every area of the city, from the downtown core to the North End and Tuxedo to Fort Garry.

Day after day in 2017, gun reports, which are called in when a firearm is spotted and illegal activity suspected, streamed into the Winnipeg Police Service call centre, reaching a peak April 22, 2017, with 11 reports.

The calls took officers to every corner of Winnipeg, suggesting few neighbourhoods are devoid of guns and immune to the crime that can accompany them.

That’s the picture painted by data obtained by the Free Press through a freedom of information request, which shows guns are being seen — and heard — throughout the city at a pace some residents may find surprising.

Number of calls when

a gun was reported, 2017

There were only nine days in 2017 when police were not dispatched to a report of a gun. Data doesn’t include robberies or domestic disturbances where a gun was reported.

10

0

5

Jan.

Feb.

March

April

May

June

July

Aug.

Sept.

Oct.

Nov.

Dec.

Source: Winnipeg police call data

Number of calls when a gun was reported, 2017

There were only nine days in 2017 when police were not dispatched to a report of a gun. Data doesn’t include robberies or domestic disturbances where a gun is reported.

10

0

5

Jan.

Feb.

March

April

May

June

July

Aug.

Sept.

Oct.

Nov.

Dec.

Source: Winnipeg police call data

Number of calls when

a gun was reported, 2017

There were only nine days in 2017 when police were not dispatched to a report of a gun. Data doesn’t include robberies or domestic disturbances where a gun is reported.

10

0

5

Jan.

Feb.

March

April

June

May

July

Sept.

Aug.

Oct.

Dec.

Nov.

Source: Winnipeg police call data

Source: Winnipeg police call data

In total, the Free Press has analyzed a log of 275,670 police dispatches between Jan. 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018, which included details such as priority level, event type, date, time and approximate location.

The data has formed the basis of a four-part series — The 411 on 911 — that continues later this week with a closer look at what it reveals about residential break-and-enters and mental-health calls.

THE 411 ON 911

Click to Expand

This is the second of a four-part series based on a Free Press data analysis of 275,670 instances in which Winnipeg Police Service officers were dispatched between Jan. 1 2017 and March 31, 2018.

Part 1: Officers are dispatched an average of 600 times a day; the Free Press finds out where they're headed and why

When reported shots fired are factored into the equation — on top of reports of firearms seen — there were only four days in 2017 when police were not dispatched to at least one gun-related call.

Police say reports of gunfire often prove unfounded, as people mistake the sound of fireworks or backfiring cars for gunshots. When it comes to reports of firearms seen, however, police say the majority of calls are accurate.

"Those calls are going to be people who’ve seen a firearm, so there’s going to be some visual confirmation there," said WPS spokesman Const. Jay Murray.

The Winnipeg Police Service communications centre

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Winnipeg Police Service communications centre

In 2017, police were dispatched to investigate 1,396 gun reports and 484 reports of gunshots. That data paints only a partial picture of such activity in the city, however, since gun reports and shots fired don’t account for other offences sometimes committed with firearms, such as robberies and domestic disputes.

Any call where there’s reason to believe a gun could be present is stressful for police, according to Murray, who said officers often experience an adrenaline rush when responding.

"You definitely go into these calls with a higher sense of awareness. They take a toll on officers, because you never truly know what you’re about to go up against. These can be tough calls to take," he said.

"You’re going to read that call history or listen to the 911 call. You try to make a determination. Is this going to be a small kid with a BB gun? Or does this feel like there’s something more to it? Does it feel like something very bad is imminent?"

University of Manitoba criminology and sociology professor Frank Cormier cautions against jumping to conclusions.

"When someone is seen with a firearm, we have to figure out exactly what we’re talking about, he said. "What’s becoming common is for people to have things that look exactly like firearms, airsoft guns and things like that.

"But, if by the time police arrive that person is gone, you may not get to the bottom of what exactly was going on there."

Indeed, Murray said officers have seen increasing numbers of imitation firearms and homemade "zip guns" on the streets.

In the past, police have suggested that could be attributed, in part, to an increasing number of firearms seizures, something Cormier said may be a positive sign.

"A rise in zip guns could actually be a good thing. It could be that fact that we’re doing a better job in keeping real guns out of the hands of criminals," he said.

All gun-related calls, 2017

Gun reports: These are calls by someone who has seen a gun and suspects it’s being used for illegal activity.

Shots fired: Majority of these turn out to be unfounded. Many people mistake fireworks or backfiring vehicles for the sound of gun shots.

source: Winnipeg police call data. Locations are approximate. Data does not include domestic disturbances or robberies where a gun is reported.

All gun-related calls, 2017

Gun reports: These are calls by someone who has seen a gun and suspects it’s being used for illegal activity.

Shots fired: Majority of these turn out out to be unfounded. Many people mistake fireworks or backfiring vehicles for the sound of gun shots.

source: Winnipeg police call data. Locations are approximate. Data does not include domestic disturbances or robberies where a gun is reported.

All gun-related calls, 2017

Gun reports: These are calls by someone who has seen a gun and suspects it’s being used for illegal activity.

Shots fired: Majority of these turn out out to be unfounded. Many people mistake fireworks or backfiring vehicles for the sound of gun shots.

source: Winnipeg police call data. Locations are approximate. Data does not include domestic disturbances or robberies where a gun is reported.

Whatever the case, the data analyzed by the Free Press is too small a sample size to reveal long-term crime trends, Cormier said, even if it does provide insight into what police dealt with during that time.

"Anything crime-related, the key thing we need to keep in mind is that we have to be able to collect data over at least a number of years. That’s important so we can understand if what we’re seeing is a trend or a blip, because if that’s the case it would be unwise for us to start making policy decisions based on it," he said.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

According to the most recent WPS annual report, the number of firearms offences laid against adults increased six per cent in 2017 over the previous year.

However, that figure still represented a 24 per cent decrease over the five-year average. A firearm offence is laid when a gun is used in a crime, pointed at someone or discharged.

Meanwhile, youth firearm charges are a different story: those charges jumped from one in 2016 to 13 in 2017 — a figure that marked a 55 per cent increase over the five-year average.

Murray said he suspects it will come as a surprise to some Winnipeggers reports of gun crime take officers into all corners of the city, suggesting guns are more common in suburban neighbourhoods than people realize.

"Guns can be anywhere in the city. I think there’s a greater concentration in areas of poverty or higher violence, but they’re certainly all over," he said.

"I wouldn’t go into an area (of Winnipeg) and say, ‘There are no guns here.’"

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @rk_thorpe

graeme.bruce@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @grjbruce

Graeme Bruce

Graeme Bruce
Multimedia producer

Graeme Bruce is a multimedia producer for the Winnipeg Free Press with a focus on data and graphics.

Read full biography

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

Read full biography

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