Blue Line

Montreal police cite new strategies for homicide drop, but critics say there’s a cost

January 22, 2024  By The Canadian Press

Jan. 22, 2024, Montreal, Que. – Montreal police say a year-over-year drop in the number of homicides in the city is a sign that violence-prevention and crime-fighting strategies are paying off.

But those strategies, which include a greater police presence in certain neighbourhoods, and the monitoring of people showing high-risk behaviour, have critics complaining that police are focusing more on repression than prevention.

Last year, there were 33 homicides reported on the Island of Montreal—including the deaths of seven people in a burning building in the historic part of the city—down from 41 in 2022.

Cmdr. Jean-Sébastien Caron, who heads the city’s major crimes squad, credits the drop in killings to a mix of arrests, increased police visibility in parts of the city prone to violence, and prevention programs that have officers working with community organizations to give young people alternatives to crime.


“It’s really a holistic strategy that appears to be working,” Caron said in an recent interview.

Beginning in late 2022, Caron said police made a series of arrests in connection with murder and attempted murder cases, after investigating members of criminal groups, particularly street gangs. In April 2023, for example, police arrested eight people they said were linked to the gang-related murder of an 18-year-old.

The series of arrests has “certainly had quite a major impact, but you can’t forget the work that’s been done at the community level, at the prevention level,” he said.

Between 2011 and 2020, Montreal police reported an average of 28.4 homicides a year; there were 25 homicides in 2021. That number rose to 37 in 2021, before rising again the following year. Police have attributed much of the rise to gun violence linked to criminal groups.

In response to the rise in gun crime, police in 2023 hired “community development advisers,” whose job is to help direct people with “high-risk behaviours” to community organizations and institutional resources, police spokeswoman Caroline Labelle wrote in an email. The advisers also meet with victims in an effort to prevent violent retaliation.

As well, police have started participating in a program called PIVOT, co-ordinated by a regional health authority, that aims to get young offenders in two of the city’s northeastern boroughs—Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles and Montréal-Nord—to return to school, enter training programs, or seek treatment for substance use.

Michelle Côté, research director at the Montreal-based International Centre for the Prevention of Crime, said collaboration between police and community organizations is key to preventing violence.

“We have to do upstream prevention to be able to support young people, families that are having difficulties, before they get into conflict situations that lead to all kinds of violent crimes, including homicide,” said Côté, who spent 20 years on the Montreal police service’s research and planning team.

Côté also runs an “urban security laboratory,” funded by the city and the province, that researches violence; it also provides a platform for police, municipal officials, and representatives of the health-care and education systems to develop strategic plans to reduce crime.

“What I see right now is very encouraging,” said Côté, referring to the collaboration between those different actors.

But programs like PIVOT signal to young people that they’re being watched by police, said Izara Gilbert, a doctoral student and lecturer at Université du Québec à Montréal’s school of social work.

“It’s been presented as a program to prevent and respond to violence, but it’s in fact a repression program,” she said in a recent interview.

Putting officers in regular contact with youth can lead young people to be on the police’s radar.

“Once that young person has a file in the system, he’s going to be surveilled a lot more, he’s going to be more at risk of profiling, even if he hasn’t committed any offence,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert wrote her master’s thesis on the stigmatization of young people in the Rivière-des-Prairies–Pointe-aux-Trembles borough, on the northeast tip of the Island of Montreal. She said neighbourhoods like that are disconnected from the central parts of the city, where good jobs and universities are located.

She said she’s skeptical that police programs have quickly led to a large drop in violence.

Despite the rise in homicides in 2022, the homicide rate for the greater Montreal region that year was 1.49 per 100,000 people—below the Canadian murder rate of 2.25 per 100,000, according to Statistics Canada, and lower than the murder rate in many other Canadian cities, including Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.

Another reason for the drop in homicides in 2023, Caron said, was the creation in the summer of 2022 of a specialized police team known by the acronym ARRET whose goal is to provide a high-visibility police presence in areas where gun violence has been reported. Members of the team make their presence known to criminal groups in an effort to dissuade them from committing offences

He said the number of murders committed with guns in Montreal dropped from 20 in 2022 to nine in 2023. Caron said there were no women killed in Montreal by their partners last year.

“That’s also a nice success story because that doesn’t happen often,” he said.

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