Gang Activity in Neighbourhoods and How to Recognize it and Report it! by Dr. Keiron McConnell

Dr. Keiron McConnell was the first presenter at the BCW-BC’s Training Symposium. He started his presentation reflecting on some of his own personal story. How, even though he has gone through school to obtain his PHD, he is “not an academic” and just a “cop that went to school”. He currently still works in the VPD Gang Crime Unit, but now also teaches at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Douglas College. He finished his Masters on the topic of whether police can truly make a difference, at which time he was then told by the dean that the school wanted to keep him after retires as a police officer and so they offered to pay have his PHD tuition to prepare him for that time. This enabled him to continue international research studying policing and gangs in major cities around the world. He also sits on various anti-gang task forces and committees including in Surrey and in Chicago.

Dr. Keiron McConnell giving his presentation at the BWS-BC’s 2018 Training Symposium.

The main take away he found is that Canadians and British Columbians need to study their own gangs since they are very different to most across the globe. There is comparative value in studying foreign gangs, but the key difference here is that young people are dying because they are choosing the lifestyle – many of them come from well-to-do families – whereas it is not a choice in most other countries.

Part of Keiron’s presentation reminded the audience why Block Watch is important to reporting tips to police and why they are best placed to recognizing the signs of gang involvement. Keiron asked the rhetorical question, “how do you know when there are gangsters on your block?” He said that in many cases you will know because the gangs will make it obvious to those who know what to look for. He also walked us through some extreme examples where gangs make it impossible not to notice, like parts of Chicago, where the gang enforcement teams have stopped entering. Chicago has over 100,000 gang members, a person is shot every 3 hours and killed every 19 hours.

A feature of gang activity in the US is that gangs are segregated by race, which is exacerbated by ingrained racism in society, and occasionally voiced by police as well. Also, what is a feature of areas with elevated rates of shootings, is less resources to fully investigate each instance of a shots fired or discovery of illegal firearms weapons. For example, when he was in Chicago, a shooting occurred two blocks away from where his team was. Even though they found shell casings and stopped a suspect vehicle, no file was created nor was the scene taped-off for investigation. When asked who writes the report, Kieren was looked at strangely: “But, no one got shot,” they told him. In these parts of town, they are not even talking about prevention or intervention; it is simply suppression.

Another example from LA – something he would not have believed if he had not seen it, coming from a Canadian perspective – happened when police recovered an illegal handgun in the house. The police held it up and said, “Whose gun is this?” The line-up of boys whispered to one another down the chain, the youngest of whom stepped up to claim the 3 year prison sentence. Comparatively, in BC, police would have taken the time take separate statements from the suspects. In BC, the myth of “snitches get stitches” is total BS – he gets loads of information from gang affiliates.

Some highlights about gangs in BC:

  • BC currently has 150 gang groups and about 3000 individual members.
  • Gangs in BC can be traced back to 1902, or ever since the province was founded, and he warns against trusting government sources and even some history books that say otherwise.
  • The homicide rate in Canada is about 2 per 100,000 people and in Surrey it is about 1.6 in 100,000, whereas in parts of Chicago and Detroit it is above 50 per 100,000 people.
  • Gang violence is not worse today than it was in the late eighties and early nineties. Although there are problems, BC’s problem does not measure up in severity to international gang violence. He boldly thinks we can significantly reduce the problem or even “solve it”.
  • Gang violence can happen anywhere in BC – any park, any restaurant or tourist area – whereas Chicago has areas he was encouraged to avoid. And unfortunately, it’s not just gangsters killing gangsters – plenty of innocent people get caught in the middle because they were intervening or else they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  • Graffiti: the only place he’s seen gang graffiti in BC has been once in Victoria. He welcomes anyone to send him gang graffiti if they think they find any. (show him the 81 photo)
  • Sikh/Punjabi gang violence is unique to BC in all of North America. It accounts for 25% of homicides. But all raced represented in BC gang violence.
  • First Nations gangs are low-level gangs and are the most similar to US gangs. They feature colours (often red), tattoos, and graffiti. They tend to be extremely violent, which may be due to deep social disruption and disorders like fetal alcohol syndrome. Ex: Redd Alert.
  • Red Scorpions – Jamie Bacon running it from jail – are one example of a high-level gang.
  • UN Gang stands out in BC because it’s made up of different races and they run everything together. Kieren’s US counterparts were shocked to learn about multi-ethnic gangs in BC.
  • Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. Ex: Hells Angels.
    • 1 in 4 HA’s is Canadian. HA is a white supremacist group, though inter-mixing occurs.
    • Since HA’s like to claim that 99% of them are law abiding citizens, some show off a 1% patch – an admission of criminality.
    • “Prospects” means they are proving themselves, they are the most dangerous ones. If they just have the “British Columbia” vest patch, it means they are proving themselves.
    • A full jacket of patches means they are “full-patch” members.
    • Rogers Arena “Special Agreement”, not allowed in there anymore because of the Bar Watch program. Coming to Surrey November 1st.
  • Bulk drug trafficking is a huge problem in Vancouver’s port and therefore is a better choice economically for gangs to use to send on to other countries.
    • Only 3 percent of cargo containers get searched.
    • Port Vancouver has only 9 members policing, and only 2 boats.
    • Vancouver Port has 25 HA members working on the pay roll.
  • Marijuana production and trafficking will continue to be a gang problem until government grow-ops catch up with demand.

Keiron would like a holistic effort to fight against glamourization of gang lifestyle. A big reason gangs find recruits in BC is because they are socially acceptable in many circles. He has found too many people join gangs for prestige. The money was extra for them; they joined because gang-life helped them get passed feeling socially awkward. Block Watch can help with this as well as calling reporting to the police when they see signs of gang activity, as noted in this presentation.