There has been a recent drop in gang violence throughout B.C. after a crackdown by police units. Currently, B.C.’s anti-gang police unit is looking to the courts for closure on several major outstanding cases.
The significant decline comes after a series of high-profile investigations leading to charges, as well as new initiatives to prevent or reduce gang membership, said Kevin Hackett, Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU) chief officer.
His comments were published Monday in the unit’s 2014 annual community report. It can be found online at www.bc-anti-gang.com.
The number of gang-related killings in B.C. fell to 13 last year from 18 in 2012 and has been cut by almost two-thirds from the 36 gang murders committed in 2009.
Nearly 100 organized crime figures or gang-related individuals were arrested and charged last year with more than 270 offences in close to 30 B.C. communities, Hackett said.
The report’s release came after the province announced policing cuts that will pare the CFSEU budget by $2.8 million.
Gang activity has spread from the Lower Mainland to the Okanagan and particularly to the Kelowna area in recent years with the growth of that centre. However, the Kootenays remains fairly insulated from gangs and their impact, although Grand Forks detachment Staff Sgt. Jim Harrison says that the local RCMP members are well aware of the gangs and how they operate.
“At this point, to clearly say there is a pile of gang influence in Grand Forks would be wrong on my part,” said Harrison. “We suspect that certainly there are criminal things happening (here) that are associated to gangs and possibly even run such as drug distribution and, in some cases, drug cultivation and that type of thing does occur and is in many cases gang related and we know it’s there.”
Harrison said the visible presence of gangs in the Boundary area is limited.
“We do have a chapter of the Throttle Lockers that have taken up residence in Beaverdell,” he said. “They are a known outlaw motorcycle gang as far as we are concerned.”
Harrison said he believes they are an off-shoot, puppet group of the Hell’s Angels from Kelowna.
Harrison also added that the RCMP is continually educating people in the dangers of gang life.
“Sometime in the near future we hope to bring someone into the local high schools to talk about gang life and what the dangers are,” he said. “Especially for young people, they see some of this stuff and they think it’s glamorous and set themselves up for a life of heart ache and the violence associated with gang affiliation and gang activities. We’ve seen it through the Lower Mainland and recently in Kelowna with homicides and brutal beatings. We see drive-by shootings and all of that stuff. Most of that is related to struggles between gangs for turf.”
Harrison said he has known of young people who have moved from the Grand Forks and Boundary area to the bigger communities and got involved with the gang lifestyle.
“So it definitely has touched our community and continues to do so,” he said. “We don’t see a chapter of, say, Independent Soldiers or Hell’s Angels taking up residence and being very visible in our community. On the other side of the scale, there is lower level gang-type activity. When you think gangs, people get the idea of Hell’s Angels or the Asian gangs, that whole bunch that operate out of the Lower Mainland and Kelowna. But on the lower side of the scale you have organized crime on a much lower level that does occur.
“You actually see drug distribution networks created that are a form of organized crime. A lot of time there is associated violence with that type of thing. It does touch our community occasionally. That’s one of the things we’re constantly targeting.”
Harrison said the RCMP, particularly with the Crime Reduction program, has targeted methamphetamine dealers and their network.
“We’ve had some real success there,” he said. “That was really having a major impact on property crime and crimes of violence in our community. So we have been successful in addressing that. So again, very low level organized crime.”
–With files from the Surrey Leader