Gang activity is everyone's problem, business community told
Langley is home to the next up-and-coming criminal gang in the Lower Mainland.
Supt. Dan Malo, head of B.C.'s Integrated Gang Task Force, shared the startling piece of information with the local business community on Tuesday night, when he addressed the Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce at its monthly dinner meeting.
The Empire Gang formed in Langley and spread to Surrey, Abbotsford, Vancouver, White Rock and Delta.
"But it was born here," Malo said, calling the gang, "the next Red Scorpions."
"The Red Scorpions, three years ago, were what (the Empire Gang) is today. And we all know what happened in that Surrey high rise," he said, referring to the murders of six people, including two innocent victims, inside a Whalley apartment building in October, 2007.
Identifying themselves through tattoos — including the word Empire, scrawled across the insides of their wrists — the Empire Gang has drawn up its own "rules of engagement" — listing what is expected of members and the consequences of breaking those rules.
It's a way of organizing themselves, he explained.
"They're trying to grow up. The Red Scorpions grew up and a number of people were killed."
Last year, there were 21 murders in the Lower Mainland, 14 of them were gang related, Malo said.
This year there have been seven murders. Of those, four are considered to be gang related.
Still, people aren't as worried as they should be, said Malo.
The attitude has been, "Let them kill each other, as long as they don't hurt us."
"Should we care if there's a grow op in the neighbourhood? I do."
The emerging trend of "grow rips," where criminals break into marijuana grow ops and steal cash, weapons and drugs, should concern everyone, he said, because of the level of violence associated with them.
Gang members use drug rip kits, containing bullet-proof vests, bear spray — "and they're nowhere near going hiking" — and batons, among other weapons to steal from one another.
"There has been a spike in grow rips and we're trying to figure out why," he said.
At the same time, the number of home invasions has risen sharply.
It's happening, he said, because "there is jewelry, money or drugs behind that door.
"The problem is, 123 Main Street quickly becomes 132 Main Street when you're addicted to Meth."
Members of these mid-level gangs — there are around 25 currently operating in the Lower Mainland — reach out to higher levels of organized crime "to get drugs to supply, and be 'the man,'" said Malo.
Using the recent cocaine bust in Port Hardy, which netted bricks with an estimated street value of $100 million, as an example, he said: "Someone is going to die as a result of that seizure, somewhere in the world."
But it would have had serious local implications, too, had the smugglers not been caught.
Had the cocaine made it through, it would have been broken down and sold by 15- and 16-year-old couriers through local dial-a-dope services, which exist in Langley.
"(They) will show up on a corner in front of your business," he told the crowd.
Those young kids, who make between $20 and $40 a day, are employed and abused by the mid-level gang members whose only concern is living a flashy lifestyle — whatever the cost to others.
"There are not many 23 to 25-year-old kids driving $70,000 vehicles and living in $1.5 million homes that are truly contributing to our community," said Malo.
And it should concern business owners, he said, because gang members have to spend their money somewhere.
They go out and buy expensive houses and flashy vehicles to park in the driveway. They add expensive rims and tinted windows.
Many of those $70,000-$90,000 vehicles contain sophisticated secret compartments where drugs, money and weapons can be hidden.
While it is illegal to use a secret compartment, it's not illegal to have one, Malo said.
The compartments, which can be opened and closed remotely, "are built by skilled technicians, who know exactly what they're doing."
Police regularly seize 9 mm automatic weapons, drugs and Blackberries from the concealed compartments.
"If you know anyone who's building them, ask them if it's OK that a killing happens in your backyard," he told the business owners.
"The business community has to get together and say, 'We don't want your money.'"
The best place to intervene, Malo, said, is with the teenagers who are running drugs for the gangs. By the time they've reached gang member status and are living the life, it's too late.
"As a community, we need to wrap ourselves around these kids," he said.
Efforts have included getting kids into the YMCA at no charge, introducing them to members of the B.C. Lions, karate lessons and other self-esteem building exercises."
Within the past 12 months, he said, four kids who were involved with gangs have turned their lives around and started intervening with other teens involved in gang activity.
"That's a number of clients we won't have."