The battle against gangs in B.C. has made big advances but now is not the time to relax, a top B.C. Mountie told a conference on youth gang prevention Thursday.
RCMP Chief Supt. Dan Malo said he believes redoubled community efforts and new policing tactics can further dent organized crime and prevent a resurgence of the gangland bloodbath of five years ago.
"We're down in the statistics," Malo told delegates in Surrey at the Acting Together gang prevention conference organized by Kwantlen Polytechnic University.
"A number of [gangsters] are in jail, a number of them are dead, a number of them have changed their behaviour and others we have forced to change their behaviour."
There have been just three gang-linked murders in B.C. so far this year, way down from 2007 to 2009, when the annual death toll ran as high as 36.
Malo said it's becoming clear a police strategy of pressuring prolific gangsters to make life uncomfortable and rob them of their power and influence is helping.
He said it's also clear earlier enforcement in B.C. failed because gang members "weren't being touched" while they spent lavishly and developed the attitude they were "superstars" who could kill at will.
"In the 90s and the 2000s we let people people like [gangster] Bindy Johal run crazy. We let the United Nations Gang and the Independent Soldiers run around with hoodies on that said they were all that."
Youth in B.C. cities were recruited and sucked into the vortex of violence.
"Many of these young kids went from street level bullying to drug trafficking to extortion to contract killing in a matter of a few years, when traditional organized crime takes decades to do that."
Past policing success was measured too much by the number of bad guys jailed or kilograms of cocaine seized, Malo said, and focused heavily on taking out top crime kingpins.
Today, he said, more effort aims to change attitudes and behaviours.
"It needs to become part of the fabric of British Columbia that this kind of behaviour is not tolerated. We take our young kids, we turn them into superstars in our communities – not gangsters."
The new endganglife.ca campaign of B.C.'s anti-gang police unit plays on emotions of gangsters with imagery of loved ones left behind after they're dead.
Malo said it worked on one ex-Lower Mainland gangster, who recently agreed to exit the life rather imagine his child having to bury him.
The biggest challenge was answering the man's question of what he would do now to keep earning $6,000 a day.
Malo said officers arranged for the ex-gangster to enter a training program for a job that will pay well.
"If they choose to exit that lifestyle, we're going to help them do that," he told delegates. "We're going to support them because they're going to change their behaviour."
Community groups can play a huge role in helping build strong character in youth and "give them role models that are not Jamie Bacon."
Malo also wants to put pressure on others who profit from gang activity.
"We have to lean on businesses that take straight cash for vehicles," he said.
"We know car rental places that make all their money from renting cars to gangsters. We need to work with them maybe tell them that's not the right side of the community they need to be in."
While there have been signs of success – Malo also counts the doubling in the price of cocaine in the past couple of years to $60,000 a kilogram, indicating a crimp in supply – there are also trouble spots.
Heroin overdoses have spiked in the last six months, he said.
And too many B.C. criminals remain influential players in the international drug trade.
"Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas."