Winnipeg ties all-time record with 41st homicide of the year
TORONTO – The shooting death of a 21-year-old man has pushed the number of homicides in Winnipeg this year into a tie with the city's all-time record.
Police said Saturday that the body of Dustin Cree Baker had been found in a townhouse in the city's North End neighbourhood three days earlier. He is believed to have died of gunshot wounds. No arrests have been made.
Baker's death is the 41st this year to be deemed a homicide by Winnipeg police. That ties the previous record for the city, which was set in 2011. If homicides in Winnipeg continue at the current pace, there will be approximately six more before the end of the year – in which case 2019 would nearly double the city's five-year average homicide number.
Although that total of 41 works out to about four homicides per month, there have been a dozen in the city since the beginning of October – including the stabbing death of three-year-old Hunter Haze Smith-Straight. A man who had a previous relationship with Smith-Straight's mother has been charged with murder.
Winnipeg police Const. Jay Murray described the increase in homicides in the city as "concerning" while speaking to reporters on Saturday.
"Every homicide brings a grieving family, an impact on the community and a significant amount of work," he said.
"It's been incredibly strenuous for our officers – but at the same time, we're professionals and this is our job."
In an attempt to alleviate that strain, police Chief Danny Smyth announced Nov. 8 – five days before Baker's body was found – that more police officers would temporarily be assigned to the homicide unit in an attempt to clear an investigative backlog and take some of the pressure off of existing detectives. This will create other pressures, though, as it will mean fewer officers to handle traffic enforcement and crime prevention. Officers have also been taken off a task force looking into cases involving exploited people who are considered missing or murdered.
Murray said Saturday that the shift in resources was too recent for any conclusions to be drawn on whether it is making a difference.
A number of factors have been cited as being behind the increase in Winnipeg's homicide rate, including domestic violence – the most common reason for police officers in the city to be sent out last year – as well as drug-related crime. Smyth has said gang activity and the meth crisis are believed to have contributed to about one-third of this year's homicide cases.
Most of this year's homicides have occurred in downtown Winnipeg and the North End, two neighbourhoods notorious for high levels of poverty and crime.
Beyond the homicide rate, violent crime in general is a significant concern for many Winnipeg residents. Police data shows that it is increasing in the city's downtown, where a 2017 survey revealed that 84 per cent of Winnipeggers say they would feel unsafe walking alone at night.
The issue of violent crime has also been raised during Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's post-election conversations with Premier Brian Pallister and Mayor Brian Bowman.