Police across Northern BC are keeping a closer eye on gang activity these days, conscious of an increased interest in Northern BC spurred on by the oil and gas development of the Peace area and the economic spin off benefits of the Fairview Container Port.
The Prince George Citizen posted an article on their website today, which examined the growing activity which the police now says involves at least seven different organizations that are operating in the North.
Of interest to those on the North coast is the attention that the police are paying to the development of the Port of Prince Rupert, a changing situation that they feel will lead to a marked increase in drugs, weapons, child pornography, slavery (sex- and extortion-based) and other ultra-illegal activities gangs revel in.
To date they haven't received any tangible leads on those activities but if port development in the south is any indication then it is expected that eventually, the concern over those activities will come to pass.
The Full article was posted on the website this morning and was also reprinted in the Prince Rupert Daily News in the Monday edition of the paper.
Gang activity growing in the North
(News) Monday, 14 January 2008, 00:00 PST
FRANK PEEBLES,Citizen staff
Gang activity is growing in strength in the Northern B.C. region, according to Mounties, just as it is growing in Prince George and in the Lower Mainland. Violence is not expected to rise in an inordinate way, but rise it will, if it follows the trends.
"There are 129 organized crime groups identified in B.C., seven of whom are operating in the North," said North District RCMP headquarters spokesman Const. Craig Douglass. "That number has tripled since 2003 but we also have tracking systems that are much better now so they have been here all along, or they might be recent additions. It is hard to tell, but we are aware of them here."
The province has a police task force dedicated to undermining organized crime gangs. RCMP Sgt. Shinder Kirk speaks for the unit and he told The Citizen that these 129 groups are everything from three or four people who work together in a crime venture on up to the most organized and entrenched of them all, the B.C. Hells Angels.
In Prince George the three principal gangs are The Renegades Motorcycle Club, The Crew and The Independent Soldiers, but there are others with fingers into the northern capital and others operating in Peace-country where oil and gas money is plentiful and the lifestyle is often rough around the edges.
"I would certainly say it is growing to some extent, like the coming in of the Independent Soldiers and groups from Alberta moving their activities into the northeast," Douglass said. "There is an increased amount of communication and co-operation among themselves, reaching agreements and that sort of thing."
In spite of the relationships, many of the organized crime groups aren't that organized, however. Police in Prince George have noticed a lack of any loyalty among the low-level drug dealers and other pawns on the street. A mercenary attitude seems to currently exist, The Citizen was told, and that holds true in the regional scene as well.
"We find these groups aren't as structured, aren't that organized, it is a loose group doing a loose set of things," Kirk said. "They are often very fluid in their composition, in their makeup, in their criminal activity. They use a group name as a means of doing business, but it is not organized in the traditional sense of the word. The outlaw motorcycle gangs are not that way; they are highly organized. The Hells Angels are almost fanatically organized."
Douglass said much of the organized crime activity in the North is based on trafficking in powder cocaine, crack and heroin and on the growing of marijuana. On another level, Douglass said, the public has to face organized crime in connection to the houses that get broken into, the cars that get stolen, the bad cheques that are written, the local people who get beaten up over $20 drug debts, the local girls who are indentured into survival sex, the kids that drug dealers approach on the school playground, etc. All of it is a result of drugs, the flagship commodity in the gang industry.
With the opening of the Port of Prince Rupert, authorities are expecting to see a marked increase in the North in drugs, weapons, child pornography, slavery (sex- and extortion-based) and other ultra-illegal activities gangs revel in although no tangible leads have come to pass. Some of those activities were already going on in Prince Rupert due to the old port, and it is an inevitable circumstance wherever international shipping takes place, said the Mounties.
Douglass said Northern B.C.'s law enforcement officials, and there are many other than the RCMP, meet on a regular basis to share information and work together to fight organized crime. They have the violent lessons of the Lower Mainland as a stark incentive to target those criminal organizations.
"Typically they target each other (when violent), but that's not to say people nearby can't get hurt," Douglass said.
Kirk said the financial stakes are so high and the people involved so dysfunctional that total disregard for human life has been plainly demonstrated many times over and northern residents need to know it is coming to our communities too. However, both he and Douglass agree that many regions have been successful in keeping organized crime at bay. It takes the will and direct action of the public to do that.
"Everyone has a role to play in this - people who are out there living their lives, trying to raise their children," Kirk said. "We have a duty to report even the tidbits and nuggets that we might know about crimes and the people doing crime. Get involved in doing that, get involved in positive adult living so young people see that is the way to live not these other ways to live, and by getting involved in building a school group, a community association, a neighbourhood watch, citizens on patrol... When you do these things, you put the community in a position to notice this other stuff going on, and then you report it."