Blue Line

Sudbury’s increase in violent crimes, gun calls unsettling: Police chief

September 15, 2023  By Laura Stradiotto, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Sep. 15, 2023, Sudbury, Ont. – Greater Sudbury has seen a steady increase in violent crime over the last five years, according to statistics provided by the Greater Sudbury Police Service.

In response to what appears to be a surge into gun-based violence in the city – three shootings in the last 30 days (one deemed accidental) – The Sudbury Star requested local crime statistics from 2018 to date from the GSPS as it pertains to violent crime, attempted murder, murder, firearms-based violence and drug trafficking.

While the city’s police chief says it paints a disturbing picture of what is happening in the city, the phenomenon is occurring across the country and continent, albeit to a greater degree in larger metropolitan centres where being caught in the crossfire or the victim of an unprovoked attack are more likely to occur.

According to statistics provided by the Greater Sudbury Police Service, there were 2,030 incidents of violent crime reported and investigated in 2018. That number increased to 2,904 violent crime incidents in 2022. So far this year, there have been 1,698 violent crimes. Violent crimes include sexual assault, harassing communication and threats, which can now all be reported online through a relatively new reporting system, CopLogic. Police have noted an increase in reports since the tool was implemented.


Additionally, in 2018, there were 33 incidents involving guns and that number increased to 68 in 2022. So far this year, there have been 58 incidents involving guns. The same trend has occurred when it comes to the number of drug trafficking charges. In 2018, the police service laid 24 drug trafficking charges and by 2020, that number increased to 49. In 2022, there were 47 drug trafficking charges laid. So far this year, 34 of those charges have been laid.

“What we are seeing in Sudbury is consistent with what we are seeing across the country and across North America,” said Police Chief Paul Pedersen in an interview at his office on Monday.

Sudbury is a microcosm of what is happening in Canada, he said. As the largest urban centre in Northern Ontario, and the largest urban centre north of the York region, Sudbury is a gateway to western Canada and suffers from the same social issues as downtown Toronto, Vancouver or New York, said Pedersen. Yet, Greater Sudbury is a rural community with a vast geographic territory.

“We are almost in that transition from yesterday to today,” said the police chief. “We all remember when we used to be able to leave our bikes unlocked, our doors unlocked and our cars unlocked, where neighbours could speak to each other civilly and resolve things and communities looked after each other’s kids. But the times are just changing. We started seeing the change before the pandemic. I’ve got to say the pandemic hasn’t brought out the best in people and we’re feeling that now.”

These so-called changing times have also led to more violence and violent crime in the community. The city’s violent crime severity index hit a record high in 2022. Sudbury police reported a 5.3 per cent increase in violent offences in 2022. Specifically, homicides have increased progressively in the last five years, from one homicide in 2018 to 10 in 2022. So far this year. police officers have investigated three homicides.

Pedersen said he realizes those statistics are “unsettling” for the community.

“It’s disturbing when you hear about gun-related crime happening in your neighbourhood or a local restaurant,” he said. “The subtle difference is the difference of the fear of crime, for us walking around, and then what the actual crime is. All the homicides that have happened in our community have involved people that knew each other. While that is still traumatic and still takes a ton of investigation on our end, while it still is significant violent crime in our community, something we haven’t traditionally experienced over the last several years, it is not something that is a direct threat to you or me while we are out walking our dog or when we are out shopping.”

While unprovoked violent attacks are on the rise in Toronto and other larger metropolitan areas, that phenomenon is not occurring in Greater Sudbury, he said, adding that it does not rule out the possibility it may happen.

“We don’t have the same massive population as Toronto and we are still a small community,” said Pedersen. “We are still a safe community. Property crimes are down, stranger crimes are down. I often say that people are more at risk from people they know than from people they don’t know.”

However, Pedersen did acknowledge a rise in drug-related crime in the community, from organized crime stemming from southern Ontario. Most of the time, these crimes involve guns.

In 2022, Pedersen said 18 guns were seized in Greater Sudbury. These guns originated from the U.S., he said.

“There are concerns with what is happening now and this is something I share with my colleagues across the country,” he said.

Many of those arrested for gun-related crimes are already known to police, meaning they are on probation and have committed previous crimes, and yes, crimes that involve guns. For example, one of the men charged with attempted murder last week at a downtown residence was on probation and, as a consequence, is additionally facing a charge of possession of a firearm contrary to a probation order.

“This is concerning about how people resolving disputes from each other and how are these people oftentimes released on conditions and able to walk about freely, and what are the pieces in place to stop that,” he said.

In response to such incidents happening across the county, the federal government is proposing a stricter bail system that would make it more difficult for those accused of violent crimes to be released on bail. Bill C-48 is the government’s response to calls from police organizations like the police service here, premiers and Conservative MPs pushing for stricter bail laws.

“Both nationally and provincially, we’ve made a lot of noise from the chairs of (Canadian Association of) Chiefs of Police about doing something that makes our communities safe,” said Pedersen. “In the spring, we will see if it gets enacted.”

However, bail reform alone won’t solve the country’s – and Sudbury’s, for that matter – violent crime problem, said Pedersen.

“We’re not talking about putting the people in the system who don’t belong in the system,” he said. “We need pathways for those dealing with addictions, dealing with home and food insecurities, dealing with mental wellness. We need pathways that keep them out of a judicial system that isn’t built for them. If we are able to divert that and move that somewhere else, then intuitively the argument is, that frees up more space in the judicial system to handle violent offenders, which is what the system is set up to deal with.”

Pedersen said it’s been quite the challenge for his organization to deal with the uptake in violent and drug-related crime.

Homicides, specifically, are complex investigations that involve members from multiple areas of the police force, with additional police work that goes beyond the prosecution, from witness management to victim management.

“While we’re working on these complex homicide investigations, we are not necessarily staffed appropriately to be able to handle some of the other things we are hearing from the community,” he said.

The community has called for more police presence and it is difficult to meet these expectations when the organization is stretched to its limit, investigating crimes or attending mental health calls that involve violence, all set against an opioid crisis.

The organization received approval to hire 24 new officers over the next three years, 10 of whom were to have joined the police force by the end of the fall. But Pedersen said it doesn’t go far enough to address the real needs of the organization.

“Quite frankly, that just helps us backfill those that are not able to be operationally deployed,” he explained. “We are dealing significantly with absences due to leaves, approved parental and maternity leaves, mental wellness leaves, physical injury leaves.”

Plus, he said, when officers attend essential training and professional development courses, they are pulled off the streets.

“This enhancement of staffing is really just bringing us up to real-time staffing levels,” he said, adding that there are specific areas within the organization that need more staff. For example, he said, the police service has only four forensic identification staff members and its 911 emergency centre consists of a small team of six to eight people who answer up to 60,000 calls a year.

In the end, Pedersen said the whole community needs to work together to fight crime. Simple acts like locking doors will help decrease theft incidents, he said. In addition, a multi-government level approach to address the opioid crisis is crucial and will help to combat street-level and organized crime.

– The Sudbury Star

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