Kelowna RCMP say they need reinforcements to combat a rise in gang and drug activity – with the public shooting death of Red Scorpions leader Jonathan Bacon being the most recent and most violent example.
Gang activity in the Okanagan city has been made more obvious ever since the Hells Angels established a chapter there in 2003. About eight gangs currently operate there, and nearly 70 per cent of the Kelowna RCMP’s work involves dealing with stabbings, robberies and murders that are related to either drug or gang activity.
But the gang violence that killed Mr. Bacon – an “all-out shooting” in downtown Kelowna that could have killed innocent bystanders has “never been seen before,” and illustrates the need for more resources, said RCMP superintendent Bill MacKinnon.
“Gang activity is huge in this area right now and we have capacity issues in being able to deal with it, and that’s being honest,” he said. “I just know we need more [people]but more costs money.”
Since 2004, most criminal statistics in the city have gone down, but over the past three years, almost every homicide the RCMP has dealt with in Kelowna has been related to gang activity, Supt. MacKinnon said. In June, seven Hells Angels members and associates were arrested for beating a 51-year-old man to death.
The police have also seen a rise in more violent crimes that are related to organized crime and drugs. Just last week, a 28-year-old Edmonton man with gang ties in Alberta was arrested for carrying a loaded .45-calibre handgun while he was supposedly waiting for someone outside a bar.
“We have many, many stabbings that go on in the bar sector every weekend that are gang-related,” Supt. MacKinnon said. “And whether it’s a break and enter, assault … why did the break and enter happen? It was to steal the stereo, to get money, to feed the addiction.”
The city of Kelowna spends about $19.5-million of its $92.4-million budget on funding its 143-member RCMP force. Sixteen members of the provincially funded anti-gang task force are also currently based in Kelowna, providing intelligence and support to all RCMP detachments in the Southeast district. According to government officials, more than 200 organized-crime members have been arrested since the anti-gang task force was brought in two years ago. The $53.3-million funding was supposed to end later this fall, but the provincial Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor-General confirmed, just after Mr. Bacon’s death, that the province will commit $22.5-million a year to the force.
While that comes as reassuring news for Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd, she said it is unclear whether the funding consists of additional money, or if it is a reallocation of resources from other policing efforts. She also worries that the elimination of the HST will have an impact.
“I am a bit concerned because I don’t know where the money will come from,” she said. “Now with the HST announcement, I’m thinking … who knows where the budgets are going to go?”
Solicitor-General Shirley Bond was not available for clarification, but she said in a written statement, “I can assure you, the province is committed to the continued funding of these dedicated resources. We want to maintain this focus on guns and gangs.”