As drug use and trafficking rises in Prince Albert, so does the number of firearms in the city.
According to Prince Albert police Chief Troy Cooper, 52 firearms have been seized so far in 2016, compared to 19 in 2015.
He said the “staggering” increase in numbers is closely tied to crystal meth and gang activity.
“If one gang is using a firearm, the other gang has to use firearms as far as protection or intimidation. We saw it 15 years ago with the increase of concealed weapons like knives and now it’s a real trend. It’s scary for sure,” he said.
Police said weapons seized were primarily rifles and shotguns, many of which had been sawed-off for better concealment. Handguns contributed to six per cent of weapons arrests.
On Tuesday, a loaded shotgun was recovered from an attempted robbery after a suspect ran into Galaxy Theatres and dropped the weapon underneath a car in the parking lot.
Cooper said many of the firearms police recovered came after a drug bust or traffic stop. He added possession of an unregistered firearm is the most common charge laid.
“It’s not always that a gun was used and we found a guy,” he said.
Cooper said larger cities such as Saskatoon, Regina and Calgary have all seen a similar spike in gun numbers since September 2015.
He said a depressed economy and higher level of poverty may be at the root of the issue when looking at the broader picture, and investigators are looking into local causes surrounding gang violence.
With more weapons around the city, officer safety has becoming a concern due to the higher level of danger. Though Cooper said officers are already highly trained and use cutting edge equipment, they’re taking new training and carbine rifles will be part of the police toolkit by the end of the year.
So far this year Cooper said there’s been a 16 per cent increase in drug arrests and charges due to more units addressing drug activity.
“We think that’s the best way to address organized crime, to attack the individuals and the criminal activity they’re involved in,” Cooper said.
Detecting the source of the firearms is proving to be more difficult since many have serial numbers filed off and aren’t traceable.
“We’re in a prairie province, which has a lot of legitimate gun users,” Cooper said. “A lot of these guns are potentially coming from legitimate users.”
He also said the weapons may not have been reported in the first place as they may have been traded on the black market.
Prince Albert police and RCMP are investigating where many of the weapons are coming from.
“Weapons are something new we haven’t seen before,” Cooper said. “It’s surprising the growth and the speed at which this trend has developed.”