Will gangs fight to grab criminal market share?
Police say recent arrests and murder charges against alleged B.C. gang members are a major step forward for public safety, but one gang expert believes the violence may get worse.
Rob Gordon, director of Criminology at Simon Fraser University, said it's one of the ironies of good police work, that as they take out gang members other gangs fight to grab the criminal market share left behind.
He said every arrest of an accused gang member can be helpful, but it certainly doesn't cap the problem that has seen 45 shootings in Metro Vancouver since late January, 19 of them fatal.
"What they do is they disturb the balance in the industry and that creates opportunities for new and less disciplined groups to come in," Gordon said in an interview Sunday.
On Friday, Dennis Karbovanec pleaded guilty to three counts of second-degree murder in connection to the massacre of six people in a Surrey, B.C., condominium on Oct. 19, 2007.
Saturday, police announced first-degree murder charges against Karbovanec's fellow alleged Red Scorpion gang members, James Bacon, Matthew Johnston and Cody Haevischer.
"Although there is still a great deal of work to do, this is a major step forward for public safety," Assistant RCMP Commissioner Peter German told a gathering of media, politicians and family members of the victims.
Two of those victims were innocent bystanders. Police believe Chris Mohan, 22, stepped out into the hallway from his apartment and was dragged into the nearby unit. Ed Schellenberg, 55, had been repairing the fireplaces in the building that day.
And as if to flout the police announcement, just before midnight on Saturday Vancouver police investigating a shots fired call found the body of a man slumped over the steering wheel of an SUV.
Police said it was a "targeted hit," but couldn't say if there were gang connections.
"The same kind of thing happened when they had sessions with the Hells Angels a little while ago," Gordon said, adding police have created a kind of "disturbance in the force."
He said the shootings are the unexpected consequences of tackling the industry.
"There is a colossal drug industry operating behind these kinds of individuals who, to my mind, are actually fairly low down on the pecking order."
Both Gordon and gang expert Julian Sher say the most significant part of the recent arrests is what police won't talk about yet.
Because Karbovanec pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, both say it's clear he made a plea bargain with Crown prosecutors.
"It's good news because it's a breach in the wall, a breach in the fortress of gangs. What's particularly significant (is) the way gangs fall is by snitching and betrayal," said Sher, an author whose work focuses on biker gangs.
Metro Vancouver police have focused much of their attention on the three Bacon brothers, James, Jarrod and Jon, over the last several months, including setting up video cameras to watch the brothers' neighbourhood.
Police even issued an unusual warning that anyone who hangs out with the members of the Red Scorpion Gang risks being shot.
Gordon said it's that careful police scrutiny that proves his point.
He said police have been following the brothers for months, effectively keeping them out of trouble.
"But that has not, as you well know, stopped the shootings that have taken place in Metro Vancouver."
Karbovanec will be back in B.C. Supreme Court on Thursday for sentencing on charges of second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder.