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Calling Bullshit on the Calgary Police’s Gang Update

A gang expert basically debunked everything that was said.

A Calgary police officer. Photo via Flickr user Thank you for visiting my page

Calgary police recently addressed gang violence in the city in light of two shootings that went down in residential communities. Two men were injured in the targeted hits; no one died.

During a press conference, the cops said the 50 to 100 or so gangsters operating in the city are a new breed, a "fluid group" less identifiable than what we'd see in the past.

"The old days of 'blood brothers forever' and the signs—we are not seeing that in Alberta anymore," said Staff Sgt. Quinn Jacques of the Guns and Gangs Unit. Police chief Roger Chaffin added, "They could be standing beside you, in the same bar as you…you wouldn't look at them and say, 'Hey, there's a gang member standing there.'"


It seems the cops may be getting their frame of reference from The Warriors because, at least according to Simon Fraser University criminology professor and gangs expert Robert Gordon, organized criminal groups in Canada haven't been operating like that in decades.

"They're not the street gangs of West Side Story," Gordon told VICE.

"The last time there was any significant street gang activity with people running around wearing different colors—that sort of classic American inner urban street gang activity—we haven't had that since the late 80s, early 90s."

Calgary's Jacques also warned the public that these newfangled gangsters don't have the same principles as old school gangs.

"They are, I hate to say it, but they are thrivers. They develop relationships with who they need for what they need, and once that is no longer of value to them, they move on."

Again, according to Gordon, this is nothing new. Essentially, gangsters are entrepreneurs operating in the same area and taking advantage of the market (mostly for weed). He shut down the cops' theory that the recent downturn in the oil patch economy may have played a factor in the boom in gang activity.

"They're really just organizations or groups that are concerned, primarily I'd say, with the illegal drug trade."

As for why they aren't branding themselves outright, Gordon said "because that's a stupid thing to do."

The police stated that people "could have and should have died" in the two shootings, and are predicting an 80 percent increase in weapons seizures in the city this year. But they seem somehow surprised that gangsters are turning to gun violence to sort out their disputes. In particular, Jacques said, "It's new that we see criminals bypass all reasonable methods of settling a dispute and escalate right to guns." He said the suburban location of the shootings put everyone at risk. "These people are so irresponsible and so evil… that they would just shoot one another in a residential area when people are tucking their kids into bed, reading them a bedtime story, and they have bullets whizzing through their nursery."

The rash of violence might be new to Calgary but using firearms to deal with enemies is "standard" in the drug trade, said Gordon, pointing out there's no "dispute resolution center" for gangsters. It also feels somewhat alarmist to conjure up the image of bullets whizzing through a baby's room, when that's not even close to what happened in these two incidents. Yes, at some point innocent people might get caught in the crossfire of a shooting, but preemptively predicting that scenario borders on fear-mongering.

Gordon told VICE the statements sound "like an attempt to leverage the situation to get more funding for police in Calgary" and that increased enforcement isn't likely to be very effective in combatting the problem. Marijuana legalization, on the other hand, "will kick the legs out from underneath a lot of these groups."

While the police are rightfully concerned about the violence in their city, holding a press conference filled with speculation, misinformation, and fear-mongering hardly seems like the most effective course to plot.

Follow Manisha Krishnan on Twitter.