Deadly links: Guns, drugs, home invasions
Ten shootings in a month: Police worried by ‘an increasing trend’
Hamilton police say they’re dealing with a growing number of home invasions, including some that have led to shootings within a cluster of gun violence in the city recently.
“I can say there is an increasing trend in home invasion robberies,” said spokesperson Steve Welton.
Of the 13 shootings so far this year — including 10 in the last month alone — two happened during violent home invasions. In another case, a residence was hit with gunfire just four days after it had been the target of a home invasion.
Of the 22 shootings last year, four happened during home invasions, Welton said. And just like the other shootings, most home invasions have a drug link, he added.
“With home invasions, typically (the house or people) are targeted because of involvement in the illegal drug trade or other criminal activity,” he said, adding that sometimes there is a conflict, or “beef,” between people involved in criminal activity.
A common problem for police is a lack of co-operation, Welton said.
Guns are becoming more prolific in Canadian cities, including Hamilton, in large part because of a “cultural change” that has more people wanting illegal guns for protection and because of the “cool” image they project in certain circles, said Christian Leuprecht, a Queen’s University and Royal Military College of Canada political science professor who studies gun smuggling.
Guns are easily accessible and have been for a long time, Leuprecht said. And now more people, especially those linked to the drug trade, want them.
“Once there is a proliferation of firearms, they’re more likely to be used in an offence.”
Of the 10 shootings in the last month, charges have only been laid in one case after two teens were allegedly caught running from a home invasion on Holly Avenue on Tuesday. A 46-year-old Hamilton man suffered life-threatening gunshot injuries and three others were assaulted. Police are still searching for three others seen running.
Two guns were seized in connection with this incident, including an assault rifle that police released an image of Friday.
For those who work with at-risk youth, shootings and the ease with which kids can access guns is alarming.
“I think a lot of kids are afraid ... they’re trying to protect themselves and their friends and their family,” said Kelly Burke, who is with the John Howard Society.
Burke is team lead with the society’s Youth at Risk Development (YARD) program, which works with youth between 12 and 24 involved or at risk of being involved in gang life.
Since YARD began about three years ago, it has had 700 referrals, 400 participants and 100 young people complete the program, which helps participants reshape what they think about community, violence and money.
“It’s alarming and it speaks to the need for programs like this in the community,” Burke said. The program’s funding ends August 2018 and the team is working to find more.
While there is a stricter legal definition of organized crime in court, for the John Howard Society a gang is three or more people committing crimes, including robberies and home invasions, to make money.
Burke said young people often look to gangs for a sense of belonging, family and financial gain. But they try to show youth that when problems arise, like being arrested, everybody runs.
Kids can even get swept up in gangs and criminal lifestyle without even realizing it.
“It’s easy to make a few poor decisions and get caught up without really knowing,” Burke said.
This is true on social media as well, where kids often underestimate the consequences of what they say.
While the spike in shootings is concerning, Leuprecht noted there is typically little risk for a random member of the public to be injured.
Criminal groups buy their guns in the U.S., often from Ohio where there are lax gun laws, or from Americans who sell in Canada, he said. Canadian gangs and drug dealers tend not to sell guns because they don’t want to arm their competition, he added.
Leuprecht described two phenomena for drug distribution in Canada. The first is bikers, who are known to control every aspect of drugs from growing to sale and are often quieter and harder to catch.
Then there are other organized crime groups, sometimes divided on family or ethnic lines, who have a defined chunk of the market. They may buy drugs off one group and then get another to sell.
The street-level dealers and youth in gangs or ganglike groups are the very bottom of this chain.
Yet they are also the most likely to get caught up in shootings and get arrested, Leuprecht said.
Anyone with information about any shooting, home invasion or other suspicious activity is asked to call Hamilton police. To remain anonymous, call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
A woman at this home on West 5th Street was wounded in gunfire there Thursday morning.
This is one of two firearms police seized as part of the Holly Avenue investigation.