In a week, Langley has seen three alarming incidents of gunfire, two of them linked to individuals who were “known to police” and which were likely targeted attacks.
There’s no direct confirmation yet that any of the three incidents are linked to the gang warfare in the Lower Mainland, noted Sgt. Brenda Winpenny, spokesperson for the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, which targets organized crime across the province.
But she did say that gang violence has been on the rise.
“Generally, in the Lower Mainland district lately, there has been an escalation in gang incidents,” Winpenny said.
The Langley incidents included:
• on Saturday, Jan. 16, two cars sped through Langley City and Brookswood on 208th Street and 200th Street. An occupant in at least one car was shooting at the other, and police said it was possible gunfire was coming from both vehicles.
• On Monday morning, a man was shot and seriously wounded in the parking garage of a Langley City apartment building.
• On Thursday evening, a man was injured by broken glass after someone tried to shoot him, apparently in a car in the 19800 block of 82nd Avenue; a stolen car was seized at the scene.
There have been no arrests announced in any of the attacks.
Winpenny said the CFSEU tracks the organized criminals who are the highest threats in B.C., shares info with local RCMP detachments and police forces, and tries to head off possible retaliation when there are attacks.
The CFSEU can also send out its Uniformed Gang Enforcement Team to communities who request it as a deterrent to gang activity, she said.
The violence is tied to the street drug trade, which ignores local boundaries and sends gang members after each other across the region.
“Gang members will, for lack of a better word, stalk other gang members,” said Winpenny.
Their attacks are often opportunistic, or are the result of an attempt to lure opposing gangsters into an ambush, said Winpenny. This has led to attacks in populated areas.
Winpenny said the top of the gang hierarchy has remained much the same for the past few years.
At the very upper tier are the Hells Angels.
“They ultimately control the illegal drug trade,” she said.
Below them are a number of medium-sized local street gangs, some of which have now been around for more than a decade, including the Brothers Keepers, Red Scorpions, the UN Gang, and the Independent Soldiers.
“Below those gangs, we have numerous gangs,” she said.
These are smaller groups, affiliated or allied with various higher level groups, sometimes with names of their own and sometimes not.
As for the exact reason why there’s been a flare up in violence lately, Winpenny said the gang situation in the Lower Mainland can be compared to a boiling pot of water – somtimes something happens and it boils over.
As for how to shut down the situation, aside from enforcement and arrests, Winpenny said the CFSEU works on a gang intervention program that tries to help people who are on the fringes of the lifestyle, or even full gang members and want to get out.
They provide everything from counselling to tattoo removal.
Getting families to watch for signs that their teenagers might be pulled into the gang lifestyle is also key to stopping gang recruitment, Winpenny said.
“Gangs are very savvy at picking up on someone who may present a vulnerability,” she said.
Recruits do not just come from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds, but can be recruited from all economic backgrounds.
“It really can be anybody,” Winpenny said.
Parents should watch for their teenagers suddenly having unexplained cash or valuables.
B.C. Solicitor General and Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth also acknowledged the recent increase in gang-related violence and murder in the Lower Mainland.
“Despite our best efforts – and those of school systems, educators, and police – there is still this attraction to what ultimately is a dead-end street,” Farnworth said in a statement.
“Ending the gun violence that’s taking young lives and threatening bystanders will continue to require strong, strategic prevention, intervention and enforcement. These types of investigations are complex, and despite the tireless work of police, gang conflict will erupt,” Farnworth said. “Police are well informed on gang activity and are working behind the scenes each and every day to prevent shootings, shut down gang operations and put these criminals behind bars.”
He also emphasized preventing recruitment, and making sure police have the tools to disrupt criminal groups and gather evidence for successful prosecutions.
“A strong response to ending gun violence also includes communities and families coming together and finding solutions, aligned with a long-term commitment from all levels of government, police, teachers, parents and others,” he said. “I echo what the police have said – if you know anything about these crimes please contact them immediately.”