Gangsters in the Fraser Valley city of Abbotsford may soon find their faces on publicly displayed posters as police consider using a new tactic in their war on gangs.
Police in Abbotsford, where eight of 11 homicides in the past year had gang links, could at some point release a top-10 list of gangsters culled from an inventory of gang members.
The immediate plan for the possible inventory is for internal use. Police have realized they don't have a master list of gang members or those with serious gang connections, said spokesman Constable Ian MacDonald.
"We are going to be compiling an inventory of all of the gangsters who are either living in our community or plying their trade in our community. From that, we will be making our top-10 list as a law-enforcement document, sort of a target sheet for us," said the officer with the Abbotsford Police Department.
But asked about the possible release of names, Constable MacDonald said "we're open to all potentials," and that a release of names is "not beyond the realm of consideration."
"Our objective is not to do that in the short term. It's not our plan to do that, but that does not mean we wouldn't consider it if, at the end of the day, it's going to provide a level of community and public safety certainly it's something we would consider."
He said names would only be released for public-safety reasons that are hypothetical now because work is under way on the inventory and protocols for its use.
"I won't preclude other possibilities but [public safety]is probably paramount," he said.
He acknowledged legal issues around such lists, suggesting those issues are now under review.
"Along the same lines of publishing any person's name and connecting them to criminal activity, you would have to have evidence of a charge or patterns, etc.
"We couldn't just say, 'We think this guy is a gangster. He's never been convicted. We don't have any intel on him, but his neighbour says he's a gangster.' That person would not be making a list we would make public."
Gangs have been a big crime problem for the city of 135,000, located about 75 kilometres east of Vancouver.
"If you have heard of a name of an organized crime group, we likely have a member or two that either resides in our jurisdiction or plies their trade out here," said Constable MacDonald.
Last year, a pair of Grade 12 students were killed, apparently due to their links to the Red Scorpion gang. The community has been home to the notorious Bacon brothers of whom Jamie Bacon is accused in the Surrey Six gangland slayings of 2007. In those slayings, six men - two of them innocent bystanders - were killed in a Surrey high rise as part of a gangland conflict. Also, Statistics Canada data last year led to the Abbotsford-Mission area being named Canada's murder capital for 2008 based on its per-capita murder rate.
Police have said Abbotsford is a battleground for the drug trade that services the Lower Mainland and Vancouver region.
"You're facing organizations that are motivated solely by money, that don't play by any other rules. They are heavily armed, organized," said Constable MacDonald.
He added that city police have long been aware of gangsters worth watching. "But we hadn't done a full inventory of them and we had not created a list and said, Here are our definable, top-ten individuals who we need to go after."
A spokesman for Vancouver police said they would be watching the issue with interest.
"If it's successful, certainly we want to follow or build on best practices," said Constable Lindsey Houghton. "If it's something we feel we can utilize here then we'll examine it."
Eileen Mohan saluted the idea. In October, 2007, Ms. Mohan's son, Chris, was one of two innocent bystanders killed in the Surrey Six incident.
Ms. Mohan has long called for the creation of a website listing gangsters with convictions as a warning measure for the public.
"They're hiding themselves beside everyday people and trying to get lost amongst us. We're like a protection for them," she said in an interview yesterday.
She said of the Abbotsford proposal that "it's a great idea - about time."