Vancouver gang violence a top concern for the city's police
'Strategic plan' for 2008 responds to escalating violence on city streets
by Jeremy Nuttall, Vancouver Westender Writer
On the heels of the city's most recent gangland shooting, Vancouver police chief Jim Chu was inundated with questions from reporters about how much of the Vancouver Police Department's 2008 strategic plan - which outlines the VPD's targets for the coming year - would be dedicated toward gangs. While the plan addresses numerous offences, from property crime to public disorder, most of the questions directed at Chu, at a presentation on Monday night (Jan. 21), involved the level of gang violence on the city's streets.
"We are very concerned with the creeping rate of violence," said Chu, pointing out that, for the first time in years, the city's violent-crime rate did drop last year. "Our goal is to reduce violent crime by a further 10 per cent over the next five years."
On Saturday night (Jan. 19), two men were gunned down in a gangland hit in front of Gotham Steakhouse on Seymour Street. Police said the shooting was targeted. The killing is the latest in a series of brazen shootings at gang members. In August, two people were killed and six injured when gunmen opened fire in the Fortune Happiness restaurant on Broadway. A few weeks later, gunmen fired into Quattro on Fourth restaurant in Kitsilano. Throughout last year, bodies were discovered in vehicles all over Vancouver; police linked those murders to organized crime.
Even though the hits that have taken place were targeted, Chu said pedestrians should be vigilant to ensure their safety. "There's places they should be extra careful when they walk," said Chu, referring to the Downtown Eastside, although none of the recent high-profile shootings have taken place there.
In 2007, in an attempt to curb gang violence, the VPD introduced its Violence Suppression Team; it also joined the Lower Mainland-wide Gang Task Force, a collaboration with other police departments, including the RCMP. Chu said that since its inception, the latter has made contact with gang members more than 3,500 times. "The Gang Force is successful," he said. "It is driving down the number of shots fired in our city."
Chu commented that the VPD's efforts against gang violence wouldn't be as difficult if the federal government would pitch in to the effort. The federal government has pledged 2,500 more officers across Canada, but a formula for distribution has not been worked out.
Mayor Sam Sullivan echoed Chu's statements in an interview with WE. "As long as there is an illegal and lucrative black market in any product, there will be violence," he said. "It's a turf-war issue, but we can do other things to reduce the problems."
Mr. Sullivan claimed police presence reduces the "ability" for gang members to move, which is why he wants the federal government to speed up its distribution of new officers. The VPD continues to ask City Hall for funding for more officers, but it has not received near the amount it has requested. Sullivan also continues to tout a need for a regional police force for all of Metro Vancouver, an idea to which many mayors in surrounding communities have not been receptive. Sullivan counters that because criminals are crossing into Vancouver and committing crimes in the city, it's a sensible idea.
The VPD also said it intends to decrease property crime by 20 per cent in the city. Although gang shootings have been more commonplace recently, Chu noted, break-and-enters and vandalism are still affecting more Vancouverites. As well, public-disorder crimes rose by four per cent last year, despite the 2006 launch of the mayor's Civil City initiative, the aim of which is to curb such offenses as prostitution and aggressive panhandling. Mayor Sullivan countered that the increase is due to more people actually reporting crimes such as prostitution, fighting, and drug use.
About the writer:
by Jeremy Nuttall is a writer for Vancouver's Westender. Check out more of their local coverage in Vancouver. LINK
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