Meth, drug trade fuelling recent spate of violence: Winnipeg police chief

WINNIPEG — Police say a conflict this week in which officers were forced to look for cover as bullets struck their police cruisers in a Winnipeg neighbourhood was linked to a methamphetamine crisis.

Police Chief Danny Smyth said Wednesday's confrontation was the latest in an unprecedented number of armed-and-barricaded situations connected to the highly addictive street drug.

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"Certainly, these crimes are associated to meth and drug use or they are associated to guns and gangs involved with meth and trafficking," Smyth said Thursday.

Nearby schools were locked down Wednesday and neighbours were told to leave after a suspect with a rifle fired at officers from inside a home. A police armoured vehicle pulled into the area to get officers to safety.

"Some of them were caught in vulnerable positions when the shooting began," Smyth said.

A 16-year-old was arrested after a five-hour standoff. Police allege the teenager shot up a house on a different street earlier in the day.

Smyth said it was frightening and traumatic for the community and for police who responded.

Earlier in the day, elsewhere in the city police responded after a robbery turned into an armed-and-barricaded situation.

A standoff ended safely last Friday after 12 hours. The week before, there was a standoff in a beer store with an armed suspect who police believe was high on meth.

Manitoba's health minister has said meth addiction is a complex challenge across Canada.

The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba says meth use has increased by more than 100 per cent in adults and nearly 50 per cent in youth since 2014.

Numbers from Winnipeg's health authority show there has been a 1,200 per cent rise in people going to hospitals because of methamphetamines — from 12 visits in April 2013 to 218 this pat April.

Police have said the drug is appealing because it's cheap, readily available and the high can last up to 14 hours.

However, Smyth said the high can come with unpredictable behaviour that can make a situation dangerous.

Officers seized 1 1/2 ounces of meth last week and Smyth said police are watching to see how that will affect the Winnipeg meth market.

"The trafficking itself is a very competitive activity to be involved in … sometimes that leads to violence."

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