The 2007 massacre execution of six people in a Surrey apartment tower made this Vancouver suburb ground zero in the Lower Mainland's bloody gang wars.

Today it's still hardly a peaceful idyll, but police here believe they're making some inroads in pushing gangsters out of the sprawling city of more than 420,000 southeast of Vancouver.

Metro Vancouver has recorded at least 20 gang-related homicides so far this year and more than four-dozen shootings in the turf war over drugs. Five of the murders were in Surrey.

But Surrey RCMP are waging a turf war of their own against the gangsters, getting in their faces with a new 20-member local gang enforcement task force.

"We're making this a very unpopular place for them to do their work," Sgt. Roger Morrow, spokesman for the Surrey detachment, said Wednesday.

The unit was conceived last fall and went into operation in late January as an unprecedented wave of gang violence swept across the Lower Mainland.

"Certainly we've seen ongoing shootings and homicides in other jurisdictions," said Morrow.

"I would like to think we're putting a lot of pressure on but it's pretty early in the game yet.

"We still get drive-bys unfortunately here in Surrey but the number of (targeted) shootings in recent weeks, there has been a definite reduction."

The Surrey gang task force is similar to one set up last year in Vancouver, which shadows known gangsters at their favourite hangouts, checking for weapons.

Keeping a close eye

The Surrey team consists of 10 plainclothes and undercover officers, two members devoted to intelligence gathering and eight uniformed Mounties who keep overt tabs on gangsters with things such as curfew checks.

"So if you're related to a given gang and you're on a court order to be at home between certain hours of the day or night, we're knocking on those doors on a regular basis," said Morrow.

"If you're not presenting yourself, we're proceeding to propose charges to the courts."

They also monitor favoured gang watering holes and strip clubs, a practice that snared two colour-wearing Hells Angels on impaired-driving charges last week.

Sgt. Shinder Kirk, spokesman for Metro Vancouver's Integrated Gang Task Force, said there are no statistics yet to show whether these tactics have helped but he sees such local efforts as broadly beneficial.

Street cops have always been taught to hone their "spider sense" for wrongdoing, said Kirk. Now they also know to look for indicators that suggest broader criminal activity beyond a single act.

"Officers now are being educated on who to look for ... based on the work of units such as the one in Surrey and also the uniform gang task force out of our office," he said.

The worst gang killings in B.C. history

Police last week arrested suspected gang members they allege were responsible for the Surrey massacre in October 2007.

Dennis Karbovanec pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in three of the killings and is to be sentenced Thursday.

Jamie Bacon appeared in a high-security Surrey courtroom on Tuesday charged with one count of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the incident.

Police have been touting the arrests as a major victory and say others will follow. But the shooting has continued.

Negative coverage internationally

Civic leaders wilted in the international media spotlight this week as articles published in Britain and the United States ripped Vancouver's image as a laid-back, west coast playground just 10 months before the city hosts the Winter Olympics.

A piece published Sunday by The Independent described Vancouver's "blood-spattered streets littered with shell casings and corpses," while an Associated Press story referred to a "spasm of gang violence" and a growing body count.

"They should first look in their own back yard in terms of per capita homicide rates and the violence they have in their cities, and here they're questioning Vancouver's safety," Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu sniffed Wednesday

"These high-profile incidents are so few and far between that obviously they alarm the public and require significant police investigation resources.

"But really, Vancouver is a city that's relatively safe. We've had a spike recently."