Strategies from elsewhere to stop gun violence in Montreal

Strategies from elsewhere to stop gun violence in Montreal


Montreal has to deal with numerous shootings that erode citizens' sense of security, as in several major American cities. Several experts agree: if the rise in armed violence is also felt among our neighbors to the South, the social contexts are very different, hence the importance of developing a unique model here. Here is an overview of police techniques often taken as an example. The objective is always the same, which is to slow down armed violence. But while some strategies have proven to be highly effective…others have caused serious problems. 

Beautify a neighborhood

The broken window theory (broken window ), very well known in the world of criminology, consists for example in quickly repairing damaged street furniture.

“If in a district, we notice signs of vandalism, waste that accumulates, it sends people the impression that the situation is not under control, it becomes a place of ambush”, explains Maurice Cusson , criminologist and retired professor from the University of Montreal.

Faced with an upsurge in shootings, the mayor of New York, Eric Adams, also announced at the beginning of the year, the implementation of this project in neighborhoods at risk. He wants to reduce the number of crimes that affect the quality of life of residents. The City targets, for example, those who urinate or consume drugs and alcohol in public spaces, as well as those who cause mayhem and excessive noise. 

Some critics of the However, the project fears that this strategy will only target minorities, as was the case with the stop and frisk (see other box). 

and searched The technique of stop and frisk (stop and search), used to counter armed violence in New York has been denounced by many.

The stop and frisk, or stop and frisk an individual, was a controversial police strategy widely used in New York and elsewhere in the United States, aimed at getting guns off the streets. 

“It's a tactic that can be described as harassment. The objective was to arrest suspicious individuals, search them, confiscate their weapons. But the patrollers in the street judged at the customer's head who the suspects were, so we often saw blacks and Latinos, ”explains criminologist Maurice Cusson. 

Citizens targeted by the police were often pushed around and harassed, he reports. 

During Michael R. Bloomberg's tenure as mayor of the Big Apple from 2002 to 2013, the police have abused this strategy, calling citizens often and without valid reason more than 5 million times. However, 9 times out of 10, the individual searched was innocent. 

The technique has since been deemed unconstitutional, but some are talking about it now that we are once again faced with incessant shootings.

Intervening at the hospital Social worker Michael Lewis, trauma social worker Illana Perlman, and the medical director of trauma and chief surgeon at Sunnybrook, Dr. Avery Nathens, are part of the BRAVE program at Sunnybrook.

To prevent victims who have just received one or more bullets in the body from retaliating when leaving the hospital, workers act directly on the stretcher. A strategy that is proving effective in Toronto at Sunnybrook Hospital. There, the BRAVE program began in 2020, in response to the steady increase in gunshot wounds requiring treatment over the years. 

“We know that these people, if they are involved in the community, their first instinct will be to take revenge. So if nothing is done on the spot, they won't talk to the police and will be in response mode,” said René-André Brisebois, professional coordinator at the Center of Expertise at the Institut universitaire Jeunes en distress. 

In Toronto, social workers meet with victims. If such a project were to exist in Montreal, Mr. Brisebois would see more repentant criminals come into play, since young offenders often have a mistrust of the players in the system. 

The latter would be able to give options, ways out or a clear look at the consequences that await those who pursue the life of a delinquent.

“These are initiatives that can be promising because they are individuals who are still at risk of committing acts of violence,” he added. 

Offering a solution

An American program offers a solution to individuals most at risk of being the target of gunfire. Offenders thus agree to put away their weapons, in exchange for employment and psychological and social services to help them stop resorting to violence. Program participants are chosen through an algorithm created by the University of Chicago, which targets offenders most likely to be fired or injured or killed. Others are also nominated by street workers or leaders of detention centers. 

The one and a half year program at a cost of $60,000 per good results. Compared to offenders not involved in the program, Readi participantsexperienced 63% fewer arrests and were 19% fewer targets of shootings, according to the University of Chicago Crime Lab study. 

The The program would save nearly $122 million in costs related to gun crime on the streets, according to independent news outlet The Trace, which reports on gun violence. 

Hot spots

To curb violence, experts often suggest targeting problem neighborhoods and groups. This is what several major cities are doing, including Seattle, where shootings have increased by 42% in two years. The authorities have thus decided to concentrate their energies in the hot sectors (hot spots) as well as on the groups of criminals who cause harm. 

Both the patrollers and the community workers and investigators are deployed in these hot areas.

“With the hot spot theory, the font must be visible. But you can't just use the zero tolerance strategy. You have to mix police visibility and the collaboration of community groups, ”explains criminologist Maria Mourani, who assures that this practice does not “displace” crime, as some feared. 

Conflict peacemakers In New York this summer, several violence breakers marched in the streets to demand more action from the authorities to curb gun violence.

In the United States, former criminals, now repentant, play the peacemaker with the groups which reign a climate of violence in the streets. These violence switches go so far as to sit down with members of conflicting gangs, in order to discuss, get them to think and try to find peace. A strategy used in large American cities, such as Chicago and New York, at the initiative of community groups, which has proven its worth. However, the program has its share of risks, believes researcher-practitioner René-André Brisebois. 

“Not just anyone can improvise as a mediator, and wanting to talk with rival groups shooting at each other. It could have pretty serious consequences. It takes clinical coaching and supervision,” he said.

Another downside: many of these workers refuse to cooperate with the police. However, according to him, collaboration between prevention actors and law enforcement is essential to achieve effective results. 

He himself coordinates a program of peer helpers in Montreal, with repentant criminals trying to sensitize young delinquents. Above all, he made sure that the criminal past of the former gang members was behind them and that these individuals, who had already been put in handcuffs, were ready to work with different actors, including the police. .  

Cure Violence A member of the Cure Violence program speaks with an individual in New York. Its team of interveners is made up of repentant criminals who are now struggling to defuse conflicts.

Cure violenceis a prevention program that aims to curb the spread of violence using methods associated with disease control. It is about identifying and treating those who are most at risk of participating in or experiencing armed violence, and about changing social norms, interrupting the spread of violence. The program also aims to give offenders tools to prevent them from becoming vectors of violence contagion. Several programs are modeled after Cure Violence, which also attempts to provide job training, employment, and services. reducing youth gun violence in the 1990s.

In response to numerous murders of young people in Boston in the late 1990s, police, criminologists, street workers and probation officers worked closely together to carry out Operation Ceasefire. >. The aim was to deter young people from using firearms. 

The program brought together all the police and judicial stakeholders, but also called on the cooperation of stakeholders close to the community, such as the pastor, social workers and even gang members. University experts, such as criminologists, were also involved.

The first step was a vast intelligence operation, which established where the victims came from, the suspects, the types of weapons used and even the sellers. A structured intervention plan was then put in place, starting with the organization of a meeting between gang members to serve them a warning: they had to accept a pact of non-violence, otherwise the police would not hesitate to lock them up for the slightest infraction.

This was followed by surprise raids, direct communications with the gangs to inform them of the recent successes of the police, an intensification of patrols and the arrests of all gang members who committed even the most mundane offences. 

“Boston then experienced a substantial decrease in the number of murders”, summarizes criminologist Maurice Cusson, who discusses the technique Ceasefire in his recent book Applied Criminology and Homeland Security, which discusses crime-fighting measures taken elsewhere, such as in the United States. 

You have the inside scoop to transmit?

Do you have any information to share with us about this story?

Do you have a scoop that our readers might be interested in?

Email us at or call us directly at 1 800-63SCOOP.