Winnipeg police seized more than 1,300 firearms last year, 850 of which investigators call “crime guns.”

Winnipeg police seized more than 1,300 firearms last year, 850 of which investigators call “crime guns.”

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a loaded handgun, a toy gun, a sawed-off shotgun — if it’s used in the commission of an indictable offence, it’s considered a crime gun,” Winnipeg Police Service Insp. Elton Hall told the Winnipeg Police Board during its March 4 meeting.

Summer 2021 was the most significant for gun seizures — 296 over three months — while handgun confiscations also increased by 35 per cent, with 182 recovered total, according to the WPS.

As of last week, police had nabbed 99 firearms in 2022 (16 handguns).

“Every couple of days, it seems like our general patrol people or people in (Hall’s) area are pulling guns in off the street,” WPS Chief Danny Smyth told the board.

Hall, commander of the organized crime unit, told the police board he’s concerned over the spike of illegally trafficked pistols in Winnipeg.

“Handguns have quickly become one of the biggest challenges facing front-line policing in Winnipeg today,” he said.

Hall noted when he took over command of the unit in early 2021, he asked his officers to come up with a operational plan to take firearms off the street. Part of that focus was dubbed “Operation Phoenix,” a nine-month gun-trafficking investigation over at least three provinces that culminated in December/January with 12 arrests, the seizures of about 40 firearms, drugs, cash and vehicles.

“Given the early decrease in firearms violence between Dec. 2 and Jan. 15 of this year, the operation was a success,” Hall said. “The organized crime unit dismantled a firearms trafficking ring which was centralized right here in Winnipeg.”

Hall also gave the board an overview of the work of the relatively new firearms investigation analysis section, which was established in 2019 with federal funds.

“Police agencies across Canada typically send firearms and firearms casings to the RCMP lab in Ottawa for processing, testing and examination,” Hall told the board. “As you can imagine, it creates quite a backlog.”

In January 2019, the WPS, along with Edmonton police, established the unit, buying heavy equipment to test and analyze the ballistics of guns and ammunition for investigative leads and court evidence.

Part of that work includes the use of the integrated ballistics identification system to acquire, store and compare digital images from projectiles and bullet casings. When the unit test fires guns, the bullet casings are collected and entered into the Canadian Integrated Ballistics Information Network for comparison to casings from unsolved gun crimes nationwide, according to police.

In 2021, the unit received 859 guns, according to Smyth’s report to the board. That’s up from 790 in 2019.

As of December, the firearm investigation analysis section’s analysts examined and test-fired 461 guns, 226 ammunition samples, one crossbow and seven stun weapons. It also mechanically or chemically recovered serial numbers that had been seemingly obliterated from 61 guns.

Hall noted the unit’s work has impacts outside the city limits.

In September 2020, the unit linked a gun seized in Winnipeg to two crimes in Toronto, and another firearm seized in the Manitoba capital to a crime in Vancouver. Last year, guns were connected to crimes in Selkirk, northern Manitoba, two in Surrey, B.C., and another to two crime scenes in Calgary.

Those incidents outside of Winnipeg range from murder to aggravated assault to aggravated sexual assaults to robberies with firearms, Hall said.

Twitter: @erik_pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera

Erik Pindera reports for the city desk, with a particular focus on crime and justice.