Anti-gang strategy welcomed by Hobbema police

An Alberta government plan to spend $1.2 million getting tough on gangs was welcomed by police in Hobbema, which has been plagued by gang violence.

An Alberta government plan to spend $1.2 million getting tough on gangs was welcomed by police in Hobbema, which has been plagued by gang violence.

On Monday, Alberta Justice Minister Alison Redford called the Alberta Gang Reduction Strategy document a “blueprint” for tackling gangs in the province.

It sets out 28 targets to dismantle gangs and help youth avoid the temptations of gang life and provide support for gang members trying to get out.

Hobbema RCMP Const. Perry Cardinal said he’s glad to see that the province is focusing on the youth side of the gang problem.

“A lot of times there are these young people who want to get out of the system, the gang life, but there’s no place for them to go,” said Cardinal, who is on the Hobbema-Maskwacis RCMP Community Response Unit, which was developed in 2006 to deal with gang problems.

Only 10 days ago, a Hobbema man standing in his living room was struck several times by bullets from a high-powered rifle in what police suspect was a gang-related incident.

The victim, who is not believed to be involved in gangs, was taken to Edmonton for treatment of life-threatening injuries.

Cardinal also likes that the justice system will be used for intervention and not just for punishment.

“I see that as a positive thing for the youth in the communities of Alberta.”

It can be difficult for youngsters involved in gangs to find a safe way out. Moving whole families out of communities to get them away from threatening gangs is not a realistic alternative for most.

That’s why it’s so important for those who work with youngsters to make them aware of how big a step they’re taking and the long-term ramifications of becoming part of a gang, he said. Youths may feel they are supported by their fellow gang members, but recruits soon find their newfound friends disappear if they get caught.

“A lot of times we tell kids, ‘You know what, the gangs don’t come to visit you in jail.’ ”

The minister announced that $786,000 will go to 14 projects or agencies to help youth at risk.

Making more resources available on the enforcement side will also help, said Cardinal. The drug trade and efforts to control it spawn much of the gang-related violence.

“That’s what fuels the economy in the gang world, the drug trade.”

The province is also committed to co-ordinating the way various enforcement agencies tackle gang problems by ensuring there is consistency in how gangs are classified and targeted. The province also wants to beef up intelligence sharing capabilities so officers can get information on gangs quickly and at any time.

Calgary police will be given $450,000 to invest in a computerized ballistics system that helps match bullets fired from weapons.

Cardinal thinks the province’s effort to target gangs will pay off.

“I think it has to start somewhere. I know a lot of communities have an interest in this program.”

Red Deer RCMP Supt. Brian Simpson has not had time to review the province’s strategy in detail, but he applauds the initiative.

“I think identifying the gang issue is relevant. I know locally we pay a lot of attention to it just as a matter of course.

“Unfortunately, it’s a sign of the times in terms of the impact these various organizations are having. So any tools we can get to help diminish their influence or their ability to operate would be greatly appreciated.”

Simpson said gang activity in Red Deer does not appear to be on the upswing.

“It hasn’t increased in the last little while in terms of what it has been before, but it’s definitely there and definitely an issue we pay a lot of attention to.”

Targeting youth, the prime recruiting demographic for gangs, is a good strategy.

“Unfortunately, young people are impressionable and when they are exposed to these individuals and their lifestyles, it looks attractive,” he said.

“It’s important to target the young persons early and then that intervention has a positive effect.”

Research compiled for the strategy shows that gangs are a growing problem in Alberta, which is responsible for one-quarter of all gang-related homicides nationwide.

Not surprisingly, drug traffic is the No. 1 business of gangs, but they are also involved in human trafficking, extortion and identity theft.

pcowley@www.reddeeradvocate.com