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BC gang activity wilting under police heat

Gang activity in B.C. has wilted under the heat of Lower Mainland police forces, including the Chilliwack RCMP, says UFV criminologist Darryl Plecas. - photo illustration
Gang activity in B.C. has wilted under the heat of Lower Mainland police forces, including the Chilliwack RCMP, says UFV criminologist Darryl Plecas.
— image credit: photo illustration

Gang activity in B.C. has wilted under the heat of Lower Mainland police forces, including the Chilliwack RCMP, says UFV criminologist Darryl Plecas.

While the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit has put a “significant dent” in gang leadership, according to CFSEU spokesman Sgt. Bill Whelan, Plecas said “proactive” policing by municipal police forces like those in Chilliwack, Abbotsford and West Vancouver has given new recruits second thoughts about the gang lifestyle.

“They are non-stop in their face,” Plecas said, about how police forces are using “sophisticated analytics” and intelligence software to keep tabs on offenders and to discourage them from a life of crime.

B.C. crime stats have fallen by one-third since 2002, Abbotsford posting a “spectacular” 50 per cent cut — one of the highest in the world, Plecas said.

Chilliwack’s crime stats have also dropped — property crimes by 24 per cent in the first year of a new policing strategy, with steady declines thereafter. Serious crimes like assault have also declined, although robbery stats remain stubbornly flat.

Plecas and police officials from Chilliwack, Abbotsford and West Van are heading to the United Nations this week to talk about B.C.’s success at an International Police Executive Symposium where cops from around the world talk about how they are sticking it to the bad guys.

Plecas said the key in B.C. — where gangs wars once seemed out of control — is making sure the police have the resources to do the job, and switching to “proactive” rather than “reactive” strategies.

“I predicted four or five years ago they would whack these gangs big time because I knew what the police were putting into place,” Plecas said.

One tool was the CSFEU that draws on municipal police forces from around the province to focus on gang activity.

Whelan said putting away leaders of the Red Scorpion and UN gangs — last month UN co-founder Doug Vanalstine pleaded guilty to drug conspiracy charges, landing him behind bars where Chilliwack-raised co-founder Clay Roueche has been residing since February, 2011 — has made others skittish about stepping up to be the new leaders.

Roueche was sentenced to 30 years in jail; Vanalstine to 12 years.

In Abbotsford, once called the “murder capital” with 11 dead in 2009, Bacon brothers Jamie and Jarrod, associated with the Red Scorpions, were arrested in 2009 and now the latter is serving a 12-year-sentence on drug charges and the former is in jail facing murder charges in the Surrey Six case.

“There’s no strong desire to be the new leader because they know they’ll be the target” of police attention, Whelan said.

And Plecas said the same “in your face” police strategy is making the gang lifestyle less appealing to “wannabe” gang members.

“There’s no question in my mind, the single biggest reason is the police and the change in the way they do business,” he said.

“If we want gang membership to drop — be in their face non-stop, commit the resources to get convictions, and it works every time. There’s no magic to it,” he said.

For instance, West Vancouver police have a strategy called “Extra-Mile Policing” in which “target teams” of police officers spend most of their time outside West Van knocking on suspected gang members’ doors in Chilliwack, Hope and other Fraser Valley communities.

“Anybody they suspect is instantly under surveillance, and they will come visit them,” Plecas said, a tactic of “making life so difficult” that “negative contacts” with the police have dropped by 59 percent.

In Chilliwack, the prolific offender program does much the same thing.

Once a “prolific” offender is identified, he gets a visit from the RCMP in which it is explained he can either change his ways — or eventually find himself back in jail. An offer to help the offender with whatever is leading him into crime — is made.

Sometimes, the offender simply leaves the community.

But the effect of the program, part of a three-pronged “proactive” crime reduction strategy started in 2008, is less crime over-all.

A 24 percent decrease in property crimes, including business break-and-enters, theft from vehicle, theft of vehicle and theft over $5,000 was seen in the first year of the strategy, three to five percent in the following two years, and a 10 percent decrease last year.

The strategy includes the “hotspots” program where areas of higher crime incidents are identified by a crime analyst, and the area “flooded” with police resources to drive out the perpetrators.

RCMP Supt. Keith Robinson, head of the Upper Fraser Valley Regional Detachment, said he believes the heat on offenders is turning young people off the gang lifestyle, “although we’re not targeting youth in that regard.”

That’s where Chilliwack’s restorative justice program — also highly praised by Plecas - comes into play.

Young, first-time offenders of non-violent crimes meet their victims through the program, make apologies, pay restitution and perform community service work instead of going to court.

Fewer repeat crimes after the restorative justice experience than those who go court.

“Chilliwack’s restorative justice is as good as it gets,” Plecas said.

But he called for an expanded program — and more funding — to include more adults and those accused of serious crimes.

Plecas said the way to continue holding the gangs at bay is to maintain funding, but there is talk of cutbacks now that murders on B.C. streets have waned and gang leaders are behind bars.

“If we were really smart, we wouldn’t be doing that,” he warned.

Maintaining police funding now will save the government money, he said, and continue winning the war on crime.

“It always comes back to the same issue — committing the resources,” he said.

rfreeman@theprogress.com

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