Abbotsford was previously dubbed the murder capital of Canada for two consecutive years during a violent gang war that spilled into city streets, but the trend has been reversed.
Abbotsford Police spokesman Const. Ian MacDonald credits police initiatives and community involvement for diminishing gang violence that led in part to six murders in 2008, 11 in 2009 and four in 2010.
There were none in 2011, although MacDonald noted that the 17-year-old male victim of a baseball bat assault in early December is still clinging to life.
The 2008 and 2009 numbers resulted in Abbotsford recording the most murders per 100,000 population for census metropolitan areas, according to Statistics Canada.
“Many cities when faced with being the ‘homicide capital’ might have buried their heads in the sand … or thrown money into a positive tourist campaign,” MacDonald said.
Instead, Abbotsford acknowledged the gang issues head-on and decided to do something about it, MacDonald said.
The Abbotsford Police Department (APD) formed the gang suppression unit (GSU) in early 2010 and launched a series of anti-gang programs aimed at youth and parents.
The GSU helped stem gang violence at its core, by identifying and/or arresting key players in organized crime and ensuring police kept tabs on them, MacDonald said. Grow-ops and dial-a-dope operations were busted, halting the gangs’ prime source of revenue and causing a disruption in their activities.
The goal was to make Abbotsford known as a bad place for criminals to do business, MacDonald said.
Meanwhile, the “Operation” series of programs – which included videos, posters and presentations – was aimed at prevention by spreading awareness about gang-recruitment tactics and encouraging a positive lifestyle.
MacDonald said, although gangs are still active in the community, their presence isn’t as powerful as when groups such as the Red Scorpions, the UN Gang and the Duhre Group dominated the streets.
“There is no definitive leader group in Abbotsford (right now). There are several gangs that are functioning within our territory and they have all minority stakes,” he said.
The APD plans to continue with and expand on its existing resources to ensure gang violence is suppressed and the homicide rate remains low, MacDonald said.
“If you have a goalie that has achieved a shutout for you, you don’t pull your goalie.”