Townline Hill conflict part of bigger problem, police say

Abbotsford dispute is among gang issues crossing communities across the Lower Mainland

  • Jan. 28, 2017 9:00 a.m.

Police were on the scene October 2014 following the fatal shooting of Harwin Baringh on Sparrow Drive in west Abbotsford.

The latest gang-related shooting in Abbotsford is indicative of criminal violence that is extending beyond the Townline Hill conflict, say local police.

Const. Ian MacDonald said the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) is shifting away from referencing only the local conflict when discussing gang-related issues in the community because it is now part of a bigger problem.

He said the violence in Abbotsford can be linked to battles for drug turf throughout the Lower Mainland and even into other provinces.

The key players move in and out of different communities and attempt to gain power where there’s money to be made, he said.

“It’s not like they (gangsters) hit the signs that say ‘city limits’ and they don’t go any further.”

The latest shooting in Abbotsford occurred on Tuesday night.

Sgt. Judy Bird said police received a call at 6:20 p.m. about possible shots fired in the area of Countess Street and South Fraser Way.

Shortly after, police received several calls indicating that two vehicles had crashed in the area of Peardonville and Clearbrook roads.

Then, they received a report from Abbotsford Regional Hospital that two men had shown up with gunshot wounds.

Bird said police were able to confirm that the two men who had been shot had been involved in the crash with an unrelated vehicle.

A citizen who stopped to assist drove the men to hospital. Bird said the two victims are continuing to recover from their injuries.

She said Abbotsford Fire Rescue Service and BC Ambulance Service tended to the occupants of the second vehicle: a man, a woman and a child. Two of those people received minor injuries, and one was taken to hospital for observation.

Bird said one of the wounded men is “well-known to police” and has gang affiliations.

Police are now looking for a mid-2000s dark Ford Explorer believed to be the suspect vehicle in the shooting.

Meanwhile, MacDonald said the APD is working with other police agencies to share information about gang activity as it flows in and out of Abbotsford.

But unlike groups such as the Red Scorpions and the UN Gang that were active seven or eight years ago, gang affiliations are more difficult to pinpoint now, he said.

MacDonald said there are definitely “competing factions,” but the players shift more, making it difficult to keep track of who’s aligned with whom.

He estimated there are currently 40 gang associates in Abbotsford, with some of them getting their start in what police dubbed “the Townline Hill conflict,” named after the west Abbotsford area where most of the problems have occurred.

The APD first began reporting on the issues in the spring of 2014, saying two groups of young men – primarily of South Asian descent – were involved in a dispute that included instances of vandalism and mischief, such as smashing car windows.

MacDonald said some of those men, who showed little respect for authority, were easy targets for gang recruitment, and that over time the Townline Hill conflict grew more violent and deadly as the groups battled for control of the drug trade in Abbotsford.

The first murder attributed to the conflict took place in October 2014, when 18-year-old Harwin Baringh (in photo) was shot while in his vehicle on Sparrow Drive.

Last fall, Police Chief Bob Rich said that four other murders – in and outside of Abbotsford – can be connected to the Townline Hill conflict, including the death in September 2015 of innocent man Ping Shu Ao (in photo above), 74, who was struck by a stray bullet intended for his neighbour on Promontory Court.

Since Rich spoke, two other murder victims have been identified as having links to the Townline Hill conflict. Navdeep Sidhu, 24, and Harman Mangat, 22, were killed by gunfire Jan. 11 in Edmonton.

MacDonald said police continue to target the gang issues with a variety of strategies, including increased overt and covert patrols, surveillance cameras posted throughout problem areas, and suppression techniques, such as regular curfew checks of problem individuals.

To those who would say the ongoing shootings and deaths are evidence that police aren’t doing enough, MacDonald turned to a hockey analogy of fans complaining when a goal is scored on their team.

“They don’t look at it and say, ‘There could have been six goals scored, but you kept it at one’ …. If we weren’t doing the job that we’re doing … we would have a far worse situation,” MacDonald said.

He said the APD is currently looking at programs – similar to ones provided during the peak of the war between the Red Scorpions and UN Gang – aimed at preventing youth from becoming gang-involved. But he said community and parental involvement are also key.

Anyone with information about the most recent shootings, or other gang activity, is asked to contact the Abbotsford Police Department at 604-859-5225, text abbypd.ca (222973) or call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477.

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