City borders limit ability to monitor gangs, police officers (anonymously) say

Officers told researcher that jurisdictions hamper investigations and co-operation

Jurisdictional road-blocks often compromise the ability of police to monitor gangs in the Lower Mainland. And gang members know it, police officers say.

As gang violence again makes headlines across the region, recent work by UFV criminology professor Erin Osterberg has taken on a pressing relevance. Her comprehensive 2020 dissertation concludes that it’s vital to address the reasons young men join gangs in the first place. But her paper also suggests that the region’s tangle of municipal borders continues to make it difficult to control gang violence in the short-term. Osterberg spoke to more than 3 dozen officers with the Delta and Abbotsford police departments and the Surrey RCMP, many of whom told her about how structural problems impair investigators.

"Everyone has their own agendas, and their own rules from their jurisdictions," one RCMP officer told Osterberg. "A lot of the municipal [police forces] operate in their own way, the majority of the RCMP jurisdictions operate in a certain way; even within those silos everybody has their own set agendas."

An Abbotsford police officer was even blunter in her assessment: "In the Lower Mainland municipal agencies, we all work together quite well and share information, share training, share whatever… and we always fight with the RCMP."

While there are integrated groups of officers tasked with policing across municipal boundaries, much of the day-to-day work is left to individual agencies.

"Integrated units have the capacity to follow gang-involved individuals across jurisdictions, but given the organizational need for operational response, general duty members are unable to do so," Osterberg wrote in the paper. "Police officers interviewed for this research found this inherently frustrating and frequently suggested that the gang members were well aware of their limited geographic capabilities, therefore, intentionally moving through and out of jurisdictions when encountered by police."

Police bosses know of the problem, Osterberg said in an email to The Current. But they can only do so much given the array of municipalities that pay the bills.

"At the management level, there exist many efforts to bridge these silos between municipal and RCMP detachments including the BC Chiefs of Police meetings and various cross-jurisdictional intelligence and practice committees. The greater problem seems to be fragmentation across the Lower Mainland given that 19 different policing jurisdictions report to and are funded by 31 municipal authorities."

Over the long-term, catching crooks is less effective than stopping people from entering criminal organizations in the first place, Osterberg wrote (as have police agencies).

Her paper is titled after the oft-repeated statement: "We can’t arrest our way out of this." In summarizing the solution to the larger problem, she said the province’s gangs require "broader civic and community engagement to address mental health concerns and reduce the demand for supply of illicit narcotics to limit the capacity for predatory wealth accumulation that have been a hallmark of gangs in BC."

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