THE traditional Christmas break that gangs seem to take every year ended last week on Friday night (January 2) when Arundeep Cheema, 24, of Surrey – a “leftover” from the Dhak crime group – was killed in his vehicle in the driveway of a North Delta home he was visiting.
Last year, too, the Christmas break ended when Red Scorpions’ gang leader Matthew Campbell, 32, was killed on January 2 in Abbotsford.
2014 appears to have had record low numbers in terms of gang-related homicides in British Columbia and hopefully that trend will continue in 2015.
Sgt. Lindsey Houghton of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit – BC (CFSEU-BC) told The VOICE this week: “We haven’t had the final numbers confirmed to us yet but the last number I saw was only seven gang-related murders in 2014, which is most likely an all-time low, at least in the last decade.”
He added: “That is encouraging compared to what we saw just five years ago when there were a lot more. But one is always one too many.”
Houghton said: “January traditionally is one of the higher months for gang-related homicides. They take a break over Christmas and then they get back at their business in January – we’ve seen that trend over the last number of years where there’s traditionally been one, two, three or four happen in January.”
He added: “But we hope that 2014 is an indicator on what the “new norm” might be in terms of the number. Nobody wants to see a return to what we had five-six years ago. The people who are involved in this lifestyle live in a very violent, chaotic world where there is always the potential for this to happen and they know it and they choose to continue their behaviour despite all the warnings and signs and funerals that they go to.”
Houghton told me: “We collectively as the police and with help from people like yourself shining a light on this can hopefully detract and deter people from going down that very violent path.”
I asked Houghton if the fact that the gangs were aware that police were closely monitoring them might be resulting in fewer homicides.
He replied: “I think that plays a part in it. They know that we are more overt with them now. There are more conversations happening on a daily basis. … To some degree or another there is always the public spotlight like media attention on gangs and gang violence, especially here in the Lower Mainland if not the rest of British Columbia.”
He added: “And they know on the police side we have impressive covert capabilities because they’ve come out in courts – so that acts as a deterrent as well. And I think that a residual effect of what happened four to six years ago with all the homicides and people in jail, for some the light bulb is going on and they realize that this life isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. You like a fast burning candle – your flame might shine bright for a short period of time, but it’s going to go out either by your own doing or someone else’s doing or the police’s. You look at some of the high profile names that have become household names … where are they now? They are either dead, they’re in jail – they’re on the front page of the newspaper.”
Houghton also pointed out: “You look at the Surrey Six trial and the results of that – the convictions. You have people who are involved in that lifestyle turning on you and deciding to give evidence – some very high profile people and that will probably continue.”
(Innocent victims Chris Mohan, 22, and Edward J. Schellenberg, 55, of Abbotsford and four other victims who police say led criminal lifestyles – brothers Corey Lal, 21, and Michael Lal, 26, and Edward Narong, 22, and Ryan Bartolomeo, 19 – were executed in typical gang-style fashion at an apartment in the Balmoral Towers in Surrey in October 2007.)
TURNING to South Asian gang members, I asked Houghton about the situation in Vancouver’s South Slope that the VOICE has been covering in detail over the past year.
Houghton said: “That conflict still remains and those people involved in the conflict still remain in the community and, as we know, it has spilled over to other communities like Abbotsford for example.”
He added: “Abbotsford [Police] have been very vocal about some of the issues that they’ve had in their community and we continue to keep collectively, from the police side of things, working with our partners – whether it’s the VPD [Vancouver police Department] or Abbotsford or the RCMP detachments – we continue to keep our finger certainly on the pulse of what’s happening and ready to intervene if we need to or suppress or conduct enforcement aggressively if we have to do that – and I know Vancouver is prepared to do that as well. Vancouver has made many public appeals and issued warnings and given information about that conflict over the last couple of years – they certainly haven’t been shy about that, which is good.”
Houghton praised the South Asian community for taking action on the gang issue.
He said: “We’ve seen the work the police have done with the RCMP and the CSFEU with the South Asian community and the gurdwara leadership and the Sikh summit that we held two years ago and the work we’ve continued by partnering with Kwantlen Polytechnic University and some of the academic research and building resiliency in the gurdwaras and the youth programs.”
He pointed out: “That will pay dividends for years to come, especially with the youth as the South Asian leadership works very closely with the kids – and that’s where it needs to come from. It can’t necessarily be a police officer standing in the front of a classroom or in a temple or wherever because we get tuned out. It has to be their peers or positive mentors in their community and there’s been some phenomenal work done in the community and in the gurdwaras that really other communities could look to as a fine example.”