A STARTLING revelation by Thunder Bay police chief Sylvie Hauth points to the growing challenges she and her officers face — the same challenges that senior government for some reason continue to ignore.
In an appearance before city council Hauth said her 227 officers had already handled 51,141 calls for service as of October. That was 1,141 calls above last year’s record total of roughly 50,000.
But the real shocker was Hauth’s estimate of Thunder Bay’s population. Counting those uncounted by census takers, primarily because they don’t own, rent or live in one place, Hauth figures there are 135,000 people living here. That’s 15 per cent more than Statistics Canada’s estimate of 118,000, the chief said. City population signs read just 108,000.
Much of this growing transient population is comprised of people from remote First Nations. Many have no skills and little hope. It is a tragedy that often brings police into the picture for crimes or drug and alcohol abuse or mental health issues. These latter cases are not logically police matters but without enough resources on those fronts, police are forced to step in.
Hauth outlined just how much that strains normal police operations. Only 17 per cent of calls for service involve criminal manners. Most of the rest of responses concern the social ills that are prevalent on city streets and in the numbers compiled by social service agencies themselves struggling to keep up.
Aside from the transient population, there is another, smaller but no less urgent segment of Thunder Bay’s growth — gang members from southern Ontario who’ve found a lucrative drug market.
Hauth, who hired eight new officers last year in response to a provincial report stemming from interactions between Indigenous people and the police, signalled that she will be asking council for an additional $1.2 million to hire six more officers to augment the gun-and-gangs unit, an absolute necessity given what’s happening in this city.
Police raids on a variety of drug houses regularly turn up vast quantities of highly-addictive drugs, mounds of cash and firearms — including loaded handguns.
City residents are also well aware of a seemingly continual round of convenience store robberies in which a variety of weapons are used to threaten clerks — none of which have yet been harmed.
That, frankly, seems miraculous given the number of armed robberies in which grainy security video shows masked individuals desperately demanding cash.
In the latest pair of apparently related incidents, robbers are seen brandishing what appear to be assault-style firearms of the type that have become infamous in U.S. mass killings. Thunder Bay police are calling one of them “a solid black military-style long gun.” The other has a similarly short stock. Both have either barrel shrouds or barrel porting — venting holes along the barrel typical of military weapons.
This development, together with the emergence of handguns in city crime, has police worried. Police and other local authorities have pressed provincial and federal governments to provide additional resources to help police deal with the urgent twin problems of troubled transients and gangs with guns. So far, we’re largely on our own.