After first 100 days in office, Montreal police chief says gun crime trending down
MONTREAL — Gun crime in Montreal is trending downward and progress is being made to diversify the city's police force, Fady Dagher told reporters Monday in his assessment of his first 100 days as police chief.
Montreal recorded a single shooting death between Jan. 1 and April 30, down from five gun deaths during the same period the year before, he said. Attempted murders and firearm discharges in Montreal were also down compared with a year ago, he added.
"Since the beginning of the year, we have made more than 107 arrests linked to firearms and we have seized 249 guns," Dagher, who was sworn into office Jan. 19, told reporters.
Montreal continues to have one of the lowest crime rates among large Canadian cities, but gun crime has spike since 2021, when the city saw 36 murders, including 19 that were committed with firearms -- up from six in 2020. There were 41 murders in Montreal in 2022, but police haven't released data yet on how many were gun related.
Dagher said he participated in a police raid in March and was surprised at the age of the armed suspects who were arrested: three teenagers between the ages of 17 and 18. Young people carry guns because they face few consequences when they commit minor crimes, and then they graduate to more serious lawbreaking, he said.
"Small, small, small crime should be pursued," he said, adding that if children aged eight to 12 years old start shoplifting from stores and face no consequences, by the time they're 14 or 15 they may be more involved in crime and decide they need a gun to protect themselves.
Dagher, born in Ivory Coast to a Lebanese family, is the first member of a visible minority to head the Montreal police service. He said the police force has also made progress on his other priorities: improving recruitment and retention, as well as building relationships with community organizations.
Last week, officers approved a new collective agreement, which Dagher said will make police salaries in Montreal competitive with other parts of southern Quebec, and encourage officers to live in the city. Less than 15 per cent of his members live in Montreal, he said.
The agreement, which increases salaries by 20 per cent over five years, is the first deal since 1993 to be accepted by the police union without protests or labour action. As of 2021 — the end of the last collective agreement — salaries for police constables started at $46,109, and rose to $86,998 after six years. Dagher said starting salaries had risen by 30 per cent in February.
Since he became chief, the force launched a hiring initiative to attract racialized recruits, along with people who have backgrounds in health and social services. Around 131 people have been accepted through the program, he said, adding that more than 60 per cent of those individuals are coming from visible minority backgrounds. In the past, he said, Montreal police recruited around 25 visible minorities a year.
"We need all populations to feel that the (Montreal police service) can also be their home," he said.
In total, Dagher said, more than 300 new officers will be hired this year as he looks to grow the city's police force from around 4,000 officers to around 4,700.
As well, beginning in September, all newly hired police officers will participate in a four-week immersion program in a community organization, Dagher said.
Fo Niemi, executive director of Montreal-based civil rights group the Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, said Dagher's news conference was a sign of openness and transparency.
"It's a break from the last almost 10 years," Niemi said in an interview Monday, adding that city police have been "removed from communities and community concerns."
Niemi said he thinks the immersion plan will allow officers to engage with people on a human level and reduce their tendency to racially profile people — though he said training and sanctions for officers who commit acts of racial profiling are also required.
"I don't want to paint a rosy picture," he said of Dagher's first 100 days in office, "but I think that when you see positive change, you really have to highlight it."
But Sandra Wesley, executive director of Stella, a Montreal organization run by and for sex workers, said Dagher's approach is little more than a marketing strategy.
The immersion program "wouldn't actually address the fundamental issue, which is that there are systemic laws and procedures that are designed to send police officers to over-police and under-protect certain communities," she said. "So, knowing our communities better does not change the mandate that these police officers will then receive when they're sent to patrol."
Wesley said she worries about Dagher's comments that police will intervene with family members of gun violence suspects and shoplifters as young as eight years old.
"Ultimately, reforming police does not mean expanding their mandates to turn them into all-encompassing social workers, it's about restraining their mandates and making sure that they do not intervene in people's lives unnecessarily," she said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 15, 2023.
Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press