Beatings on the street after closing time, a stabbing in a high school hallway and a slew of shootings: these are the ways police say 12 people have been murdered in Toronto since Sept. 5.
That’s a dozen homicides in less than a month, making this the deadliest September the city has seen since at least 1990 — the earliest year included in the data analyzed by the Star.
Interactive: Toronto homicides since 1990
The Star went through these murder statistics and spoke to experts to unpack what this spike in killings means for Torontonians.
How bad is 12 murders in one month?
Though certainly among the worst months for homicides in recent years, the spate of murders this September isn’t entirely unprecedented. Going back to January 1990, there were more than 20 instances in which 10 or more people were murdered in a single month, most recently in July 2010.
Even so, for Toronto police Staff Insp. Greg McLane, this homicide spike is nothing to shrug off. “That’s almost one homicide every two days, so it’s concerning for me,” he said.
The murder rate fluctuates in “peaks and valleys,” McLane added, though “this is something a little bit beyond what we normally see.”
The worst month for homicides in the past quarter century, according to the Star’s analysis, was November 2003, when 14 people were murdered in the city.
How does this stack up with previous Septembers?
The ninth month of the year isn’t typically this murder-heavy. Since 1990, there have been 5.9 murders on average each September. Normally, July sees the most homicides in Toronto, with an average of 6.9 each year since 1990.
McLane said police expect summertime spikes in crime, because more people are outside and there’s more late-night revelry. But this year, cops didn’t notice an increase in summertime homicides —there were three murders in July and four in August.
“We had a lull coming up to the mid-part of the summer, and it appears that in the month of September here we’ve had a peak,” he said. “It’s hard to explain. . . . It looks like we’re catching up.”
This month’s 12 murders beats out September 1994, 2002 and 2005 (the so-called Summer of the Gun), each of which had 11 homicides.
What does this mean?
It’s hard to glean anything from the recent surge of homicides, said McLane. He sees the murders as a statistical blip rather than an alarming phenomenon. “I wouldn’t want to rationalize why this is occurring because I just don’t have the answers.”
Police are approaching these murders just like they do all killings in Toronto, and there’s no reason to think these homicides are linked as gang slayings or the work of a serial killer, McLane added.
“There’s no evidence to suggest that any of these murders are connected in any way shape or form,” he said.
Jane Sprott, a Ryerson University criminologist, explained that, “although peculiar” to have this many murders in a given month, it’s difficult to parse meaning from such a short-term surge.
“It may or may not mean anything. One really needs to see what the murder rate is for the entire year, not try to draw inferences from one month,” she said in an email.
How does this affect the big picture?
Even after September’s spate of killing, the number of homicides in Toronto this year is on par with recent trends.
By this time last year, for instance, there were 42 homicides, compared with 41 so far in 2014, said McLane. There were 41 murders in 2012 by the end of September, and 46 by that time in 2011, according to stats gathered by the Star.
Moreover, with three months left before the new year, Toronto is more than 20 murders shy of the annual average since 1990 (62.3 homicides per year).
The murder rate — annual homicides each year, per 100,000 people — changes every year, but has dropped overall over the past few decades. The highest this has been in Toronto since 1990 was 3.79 in 1991, while the lowest was 1.77 in 2011. The rate last year was 2.06 murders per 100,000 people in Toronto.
“The rate may go up slightly and then come back down the following year — one needs to look at the overall pattern over years in order to make sense of trends,” said Sprott.
McLane said it’s difficult to predict whether the glut of killings in September will carry over through the fall, though he’s cautiously confident the surge is nothing more than coincidence.
“This is something I would expect would tail off. I would hope that it would tail off,” he said. “It’s impossible to predict.”