Montreal's police chief said Tuesday that gun violence decreased in 2023 and, for the first time in five years, there are more officers on the streets.
Fady Dagher, the chief of the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal, pointed to statistics that showed the number of times guns were fired or used in attempted murders was down by 26 per cent in 2023 compared to 2022.
That decrease was attributable, he said, to the work carried out by the police but also by the community. The SPVM used "targeted deterrence" to find illegal firearms and arrest those who had them in their possession. They made 351 arrests in connection with firearm events in 2023 and seized 775 guns — mostly handguns that had made their way into the city by way of the United States.
But the police also partnered with community organizations and Dagher said prevention — ensuring people don't feel the need to pick up a gun or turn to crime — played a role in keeping gun violence down.
"This is what makes Montreal a very, very safe city in Canada, it's because everybody is concerned, not only the police," he said. "I'm glad, very proud, our police officers made a difference of 26 per cent, but that comes also from all our partners."
The SPVM also grew over the past year.
When he was hired in January 2023, Dagher said recruitment and addressing the department's hiring difficulties were among his key priorities. He has pitched Montreal as a challenging but rewarding city to work in to young police recruits.
For years, the service struggled with hiring. Over the past five years, it wasn't able to hire enough officers to replace those lost through attrition. Dagher attributed that in part to the difficult work environment and better working conditions elsewhere.
The SPVM now has a new collective agreement, however, and working conditions and pay have improved, Dagher said.
In 2023, the SPVM hired more than 300 new officers — hitting its recruitment goal. There are now 4,580 officers working for the service, compared to 4,489 in 2022.
Those new recruits are also undergoing a new integration program that gives them experience working with various community organizations before they hit the streets.
Mayor Valérie Plante said when the city chose to hire Dagher, they had hoped he would bring a new approach, one he had championed in Longueuil, Que., of balancing prevention and enforcement. She said she looked at the past year as a success and said Dagher has so far achieved that balance.
"We want our police service to approach all Montreal communities, we also want to have strong action against armed violence," she said. "One year [since Dagher was hired], I think we can say we didn't make a mistake."
SPVM brass said they were asking the city for more money to investigate organized crime involved in vehicle thefts and smuggling of stolen cars through the port of Montreal.
But even though there were 538 arrests last year tied to vehicle thefts, it was a difficult situation to solve because it is being orchestrated by a larger network, Cédric Couture, the deputy director of the SPVM, said.
Couture said four more people were arrested for vehicle theft overnight Monday — and three of them were under 20 years old.