There are two battles going on in the Townline Hill area, Abbotsford Police Chief Bob Rich told a crowd gathered tonight (Thursday) for a community crime forum.
One is a turf war between gangs involved in the drug trade, and the other is between young men who are at risk of joining those gangs, Rich told the audience of about 300 at the Abbotsford Arts Centre.
The forum was held in response to violence that has been occurring in the Townline Hill area of west Abbotsford over the last several months, culminating last Wednesday in the shooting death of an innocent man, Ping Shu Ao, 74, on Promontory Court.
Every speaker at the forum addressed Ao’s death, with Mayor Henry Braun making a pledge to the audience.
“This has to stop. This will stop. We are going to get to the bottom of this,” he said.
Rich outlined the history of the violence, which he said can be attributed to two gangs – one led by Sandeep Sidhu and Jimi Sandhu and the other led by Gavin Grewal.
The three men were the subject of a public notice in March, when the Abbotsford Police Department warned that they posed a risk of “significant harm to the safety of the community and anyone who may associate with them.”
Rich said the first major incident took place on Oct. 2, when 18-year-old Harwin Baringh was fatally shot while he was in his vehicle on Sparrow Drive.
He then listed the number of shootings, assaults and other incidents that have taken place since that time.
Rich said another series of incidents has occurred between two groups of young men – mostly teenagers – “over nothing.” This dispute has included instances of vandalism and mischief, and some of the older kids have moved from there into gang involvement.
Braun said one of the problems is that the young men involved have no fear of the police or the justice system. He said it is up to the community to help change that.
“I hope we will take back our neighbourhoods … The police cannot do this alone,” he said.
Rich said police have stepped up enforcement in the Townline Hill area, with the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit – the province’s anti-gang agency – and the APD’s gang unit taking turns monitoring the area each day.
But he called for more parental and community support to help fight the issue on a more long-term basis.
Const. Charn Kingra, another speaker at the forum, said the APD received only one 911 call following Ao’s shooting, although many people later reported having heard gunfire.
Kingra said people he talked to said they didn’t call because they assumed somebody else would have. He, Rich and Braun each emphasized the need for people to report suspicious activity, no matter how minor they might believe it is.
“The reality is this is a community issue,” Kingra said.
Other suggestions included for the public to get involved in groups such as Neigbourhood Watch, Adopt-a-Block and Citizens’ Patrol.
“We need to bring that sense of community back (where) we look after each other,” Kingra said.
(Photo below by Vikki Hopes: Const. Charn Kingra speaks at the crime forum on Thursday night at the Abbotsford Arts Centre.)