Gun violence changing the nature of policing: experts

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A day after two Edmonton police officers were shot and killed in the line of duty, two former police officers say growing gun violence is changing the nature of police work.

“At one time, 40 or 50 years ago when I was a front-line police officer, you didn’t think a lot about guns to be honest,” said Chris Lewis, Ontario Police commissioner and public safety analyst.

“You didn’t anticipate guns in every vehicle, but now it’s to the point where [officers] have to assume there’s one there to really try to maintain any element of personal safety. So that’s really challenging.”

The Edmonton Police Service reports that gun violence in the city increased 10 per cent, from 150 shootings in 2021 to 165 in 2022.

In December of last year alone, EPS investigated 21 shootings. So far in 2023, there have been 37 shootings reported in Edmonton and 10 since the start of March.

In the last 10 days, six people were shot in Edmonton. Of those, five died.

Thursday, Const. Travis Jordan and Const. Brett Ryan died while responding to a domestic dispute call in Inglewood in the early morning hours. It was the first time ever that two Edmonton police officers have been killed on duty while responding to the same call.

A criminologist and former EPS officer said only one officer, Const. Daniel Woodall, was killed in his 25 years on the job.

The deaths of Const. Jordan and Const. Ryan make eight police officers that have been killed on the job in Canada since September 2022.

“Which is unheard of in the Canadian context,” Dan Jones said. “I don’t know if scary is the right word. Disturbing, sad – it’s all those things.

“You worry about the members out there, for sure.”

Jones said discourse around policing, which intensified after the 2020 murder of George Floyd, is also contributing to the danger facing police officers by making them an easier target for bad actors.

“The police being a legitimate power holder in the public, there’s less likelihood that people are going to do bad things to the police officers,” he added.

Ultimately, Jones said the two officers killed Thursday could not have known they were going into a deadly situation.

At a press conference Friday, EPS said the 16-year-old boy that killed the two officers had no criminal record, that police had been to the residence before and that there was nothing in the call to indicate the officers were in danger.

“Ambush attacks happen so fast and so quickly,” Jones said. “There’s nothing you can do to prepare for that.”

In response to rising gun crime, EPS launched a Firearms Examination Unit in 2021, which allows the organization to test firearms used in crimes and recover forensic evidence without having to send guns away for tests.

“Absolutely we’re seeing an uptick in violent crime, we’re seeing an uptick in crimes involving guns for a while,” said EPS Deputy Chief Devin Laforce on Friday. “We’re absolutely putting all of our resources and analysts and doing what we can to get ahead of what that is.

“[There’s] a variety of reasons obviously behind the gun crime, and to be able to relate them all, we can’t. And so we can’t necessarily say there’s any one thing that’s precipitating that.”

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