With the Winter Olympics only a year away, officials in British Columbia have made it clear that the gang problem must end. Money has poured in for new officers. Legislation is being proposed to expand surveillance capability, toughen sentences, crack down on firearms smuggled in from the U.S., and outlaw armored cars and flak jackets.
A month earlier, Vancouver police announced a series of arrests that they said had "functionally dismantled" the notorious Sanghera crime group, whose conflict with other gangs in southeast Vancouver had led to nearly 100 shootings in the last few years.
"We targeted them for whatever kind of offenses we could get them for, from minor charges like causing a disturbance to attempted murder. We ended up incarcerating literally the whole group, and the result of that has been a decrease in shootings," said Mike Porteous, who led Project Rebellion, the gang sweep that netted the Sanghera group.
"I call it death by a thousand cuts," said Cpl. A.C.J. Coons, head of the four-vehicle gang patrol on the Friday night shift.
Coons and his partner, Constable Michael Clark, execute sharp U-turns when they see a suspicious Escalade or BMW and start checking IDs. They prowl the bars, scrutinizing driver's licenses and ordering known gang members to leave under laws similar to U.S. gang injunctions.
The bouncer at the Canvas Lounge in central Vancouver's Gastown district reports that one of the Skeena Boys (named for the apartment project in east Vancouver where the gang originated) challenged him when he wouldn't let him in. The man grabbed his hip, as if signaling he would have a gun when he returned, the bouncer said.
Coons and Clark head off on foot to corner the young man, who is wearing rhinestone earrings and a T-shirt with a jeweled tiger. He and two companions smirk and stare at the sidewalk; they insist they were simply looking for someplace else to drink.
"In some ways, we've lost this generation of gangsters, they're so immersed in the gang world," said Sgt. Keiron McConnell, standing nearby in the red-and-blue glare of the police lights. "About the only thing we can do is incarcerate them."