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Belleville police continue war on gangs and guns

By Steph Crosier

Belleville Police will continue to use special funding to combat gangs and gun violence in the community now that the provincial government has expanded its funding.

On July 23the provincial government made the provincial anti-violence intervention strategy (PAVIS) permanent. Modeled after Toronto’s anti- violence intervention strategy, TAVIS, Belleville Deputy Chief Paul Vandegraaf said it is in response to the escalated level of gun violence in Toronto this summer.

Toronto’s summer has been bloody with a number of different shootings at soccer fields, schoolyards, and neighbourhood picnics.  The latest was a double homicide in the city’s west end where two men were shot and killed Tuesday night.

PAVIS, a provincial grant system for local police services, uses specialized teams to work to target illegal gangs, drugs, and weapons activities in 22 different communities by focusing on intervention, enforcement and community initiatives.  Belleville Police has been using the PAVIS initiative for two years the community, said Vandegraaf.

“We’ve taken a very proactive lead in getting involved at the beginning of combating gang violence,” said Vandegraaf. “So our service has moved forward, received grant funding, and created a new position in the organization because of the grant funding to deal with gangs that come from the greater Toronto area or come from other provinces.”

Vandegraaf is adamant that as a highway community visitors to the area are popular, and though calls out for weapons are not common, he said Belleville is a central point for criminals that move up an down the 401.

“We’ve been very re-active in the sense with search warrants and making arrests where possible,” said Vandegraaf. “But also in the pro-active side we’ve brought former gang members to do presentations at schools we’ve purchased new equipment to combat some of the technology side of gang activity.”

Out of the PAVIS funding came the gun hotline, launched in October 2011. Vandegraaf said today people use the number as a tip line that may or may not include gun-related information.

“[The hotline is] to raise awareness that guns can become a reality in our community and we want to be on the forefront,” said Vandegraaf. “It definitely provides information in relation to gun activity.”

Detective Sargent Brad Robson at Quinte West OPP’s criminal investigations unit said Toronto and Quinte West gun violence-wise are nowhere similar.

“Comparing Quinte West to Toronto is a little like comparing apples to oranges,” said Robson.  “But typically when I look through the stats, and I look through the calls of service that we’ve been going to pertaining to firearms from June till now it’s not very prevalent at all.”

Robson said that in our area the OPP are usually called out to long guns, but there is the occasional handgun.

“It’s not common for us to see handguns in this area being involved in instances, and typically those that are involved are illegally obtained,” said Robson.

The largest numbers of firearm calls to the OPP are for the disposal of firearms, he said and since June there have been zero weapons calls in Quinte West.