In Bid to Quell Gang Violence, Policing Orthodoxy Changes Gears

Shortly after the bomb ripped through the prominent gangster’s motor home – a dramatic escalation from the hail of bullets British Columbians have come to expect from organized crime – police arranged sit-downs with street-level gangsters and their bosses. Gunfire is one thing, but bombings, authorities made clear at the meetings, would not be tolerated.

It was an unusual step, to be sure. But as the Lower Mainland grapples with another very public wave of gang violence, it’s not the only unorthodox measure police have taken – from issuing a public alert immediately after the motor home’s owner was slain in Mexico late last month, to admitting they can’t wipe out the gangs and can only work to contain the violence they inflict. Warning those in organized crime not to use bombs is part of that containment strategy.

Police insist gang violence is on the decline, but arrests appear few and far between. It remains to be seen what effect their plan and admission that gangs can’t be eliminated will have following the latest spate of violence – including a daylight execution near a Vancouver elementary school last week, and a stabbing in Langley on Thursday.

“I think we have to be a realist in that sense, that some of these gangs have been here for quite some time and the gangs themselves won’t go away,” RCMP Chief Superintendent Dan Malo, the officer in charge of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, said in an interview. “The issue becomes the fact that by destabilizing them and removing some of the important people through enforcement action, it causes a lesser risk to the public.”

While Supt. Malo’s statement might well be true, it’s not one usually heard from any RCMP officer, let alone one quite so high-ranking.

Thomas Gisby, who police have described as a “significant player” in the drug trade, was shot twice in the head while in the Mexican tourist town of Nuevo Vallarta last month. Mr. Gisby was the target of the January motor home bombing in Whistler – an incident so unusual that even Mr. Gisby and a companion initially believed a propane tank had accidentally blown. Police warned Mr. Gisby his life was in danger and he fled the country.

The conversation with Mr. Gisby was one of many police had with members of organized crime following the motor home blast. Supt. Malo wouldn’t disclose specifics, but said such meetings could be held at a house, lawyer’s office, or neutral location.

“We’re always very concerned if, in fact, organized crime turns to that mode of trying to kill one another,” he said. “We have gone to a great deal of gang members and senior people in organized crime involved in that lifestyle in British Columbia.”

He added: “Should they choose to bring that behaviour onto the streets of British Columbia, both [the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit]and the federal policing arm of the RCMP will bring everything to bear in terms of making sure the gang members are dealt with should that behaviour continue.”

There have been no bombings since January.

The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, an alliance of a dozen police agencies including the RCMP, Vancouver police and Victoria police, is tasked with disrupting and suppressing organized crime. It is, by no means, an easy task. Targeted hits rarely yield suspects. If there are witnesses, they can be reluctant to speak out. The same can hold true for victims.

According to Statistics Canada, gang-related homicides are less likely to be solved than other homicides. Police identified an accused in 34 per cent of gang-related homicides in 2010 – the last year for which data is available – compared with 89 per cent of non-gang related homicides. The overview is national. No provincial breakdown was available.

RCMP Chief Superintendent Mark Fleming said police do make some gang arrests, but rarely disclose them.

– Read the entire article at The Globe and Mail.