Good afternoon, Mr. Chair and panel. On behalf of the Winnipeg Police Service and Chief Keith McCaskill, thank you for the opportunity to present this information today.
My name is Jim Poole. I'm an inspector with the police service, overseeing a number of units, including our street crime unit. With me is Constable Nick Leone, from our organized crime unit, a relative subject-matter expert.
The history of street gangs in Manitoba, and Winnipeg in particular, is that of a violent nature. In 1988 Winnipeg saw the appearance of the first structured street gang, which was quickly followed by the formation of rival gangs. The rivalry over colours, turf, and the drug trade quickly escalated. The street gang stage continued to evolve with the emergence of immigrant-based street gangs over time.
Cooperative working relationships have developed between some of these groups. Currently many of the street gangs and organized crime groups based in Winnipeg have developed interprovincial connections to further facilitate their criminal activities.
At any given time, there are a minimum of 12 street gangs operating within the city of Winnipeg, and this number grows as you factor in various splinter groups and rurally based gangs that have close criminal ties with Winnipeg-based gangs or that travel to Winnipeg to conduct criminal activity.
A common thread found in all street gangs in Winnipeg includes the use of violence and intimidation, as spoken to before by our colleagues. Street gangs maintain discipline within their own gangs and resolve disputes between gangs by the use of violence, which includes the extreme of murder. Street gangs will not hesitate to do bodily harm to their own members to set an example for the rest of the gang.
Street gangs rely upon intimidation and fear to prevent witnesses and victims from reporting incidents to the police and testifying in court. In Winnipeg, intimidation has reached the level of threats and violence being carried out against members of law enforcement and the justice system. It should be noted that gang-related activity is one of the most underreported crimes, due to the gangs' subculture philosophy of non-cooperation and fear of retaliation.
The acquisition and use of firearms by street gangs continues to escalate, with shooting incidents becoming more and more commonplace in the streets of Winnipeg. Increased violence between rival gangs has a significant impact on public safety, as well as officer safety.
Many Canadian citizens would be surprised to know that child soldiers are found in many of our cities. This is a disturbing trend employed by high-ranking gang members to recruit preteens and young teenagers into the gang, with the sole purpose of using those individuals to carry out violent acts, up to and including murder. Higher-ranking gang members are doing this to exploit the weakness of the Youth Criminal Justice Act and to insulate themselves from prosecution. The belief is that a young person will receive only a light punishment for a crime that an adult could potentially receive a life sentence for. Between 2007 and 2009, 12 of the 30 gang-related homicides in Winnipeg were carried out by young offenders.
In addition to the premeditated acts of violence and intimidation, there continues to be an escalation of random violence used by gang members against unsuspecting victims of robberies and assaults. Car thieves, many of whom in Winnipeg are related to the various gangs, operate stolen vehicles with reckless disregard, instigating pursuits and deliberately ramming police cruisers. Two deaths of innocent civilians have been attributed to this type of wanton disregard and reckless activity in the recent past.
Due to the successes of the Winnipeg auto theft suppression strategy, or WATSS, the number of stolen vehicles in Winnipeg has shown significant decline over previous years. Though a success, this strategy will not claim victory, as any one stolen vehicle presents an extreme risk to the citizenship of Winnipeg.
In addition to movement between Winnipeg and surrounding rural areas, even the smallest and least sophisticated street gangs are expanding their criminal operations interprovincially. This movement between jurisdictions creates challenges for law enforcement in terms of ability for multiple law enforcement agencies to carry out effective investigations, and enforcement is often hampered by differences in policy, budget, and enforcement objectives.
The investigation of gang members who conduct criminal activities interprovincially can be difficult, as meaningful and timely information and intelligence is sometimes not effectively exchanged.
Investigations involving street gangs and organized crime tend to be more complex than traditional police investigations. They involve multiple accused who take part in various crimes and in differing degrees. These investigations can result in dozens of arrests, hundreds of charges, and thousands of exhibits. These crimes often span a myriad of specialized police investigative techniques, such as commercial or financial crime that crosses international borders, technological crime, drug crime, gang crime, human trafficking, and homicide.
It then becomes necessary that law enforcement adapts and forms specialized units of investigators who can work together. Law enforcement must realize that the philosophy of investigators being the “jack of all trades, but the master of none” will not effectively combat street gangs and organized crime.
Due to the enormous scale of their illegal activities, organized crime groups and street gangs are employing the latest and most sophisticated electronic technology available. The reasons are twofold: one is to avoid detection by law enforcement; and secondly, like any profitable business, it is necessary to facilitate the movement of large amounts of product--in this case contraband--and currency from place to place.
Organized crime groups are using encrypted BlackBerry technology, e-mails, and text messaging, making it increasingly difficult for law enforcement to conduct conventional wiretap intercepts. The use of remote off-site servers to store illegal data has become more commonplace, making it difficult to retrieve information for evidentiary purposes.
These technologies make conventional undercover, wiretap, and other police techniques obsolete. Law enforcement's ability to monitor this technology is limited due to the costly nature of these types of investigations. Organized crime groups are well aware of this and they use the latest technology to their benefit.
For the individuals and groups involved in organized crime and street gangs, it is a lifetime endeavour, with the goal being success that is measured in large sums of money and power. To achieve this goal, groups and individuals treat their criminal activities as a business that is operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Put simply, law enforcement cannot be expected to undo in months what organized crime and street gangs have built over years.
Law enforcement, too, must set long-term goals, through ongoing use of the Privacy Act and undercover and surveillance operations. These operations need months, sometimes years, to see their investigative goals through to fruition. It is for these reasons that law enforcement requires special tools and dedicated resources to fight organized crime, because it is a specialized fight.
Within Winnipeg, in an effort to further crack down on violent gang activity that saw a steep rise last summer, the Province of Manitoba and the Winnipeg Police Service joined forces together with the criminal organization and high risk offender unit of probation services, under Corrections, as well as with the crown's office. They are targeting Winnipeg street gang members through the gang response and suppression plan, or GRASP. This is partially funded by the province, which is supplying some staff members for support to our processes.
Many of the aspects of GRASP are intended to mirror the Winnipeg Police stolen auto unit's WATSS strategy. It's a proven tool against auto theft, and we want to implement it in the gang realm. The WATSS program focused on stolen autos and it garnered success.
GRASP will be a collaborative effort, which, in addition to quelling gang violence in Winnipeg, is anticipated to enhance communication among law enforcement bodies and increase generated intelligence on gang members. Implemented in January 2010, GRASP ensures accountability of those released under court ordered conditions through intense supervision. A minimum of two checks will be conducted per week on these GRASP members. If breaches are discovered, intense follow-up will take place to bring the gang members back before the judicial system.
GRASP includes those offenders who have the highest likelihood of reoffending in a violent manner. People who are on our program will be, and are, on CPIC. For both officer safety and intelligence purposes, it identifies a person as a GRASP subject. The Winnipeg Police Service street crime unit has been tasked with this initiative.
To determine supervision priorities under GRASP, an integrated assessment team, comprising Manitoba justice officials and Winnipeg Police Service members, conducts a review of the gang members' past. Based on specific criteria, they are ranked and put into our program. The priority list of gang members will be reviewed regularly, as individuals of higher interest may be released from custody and added to the initiative.
That is just one of the things we have done recently regarding the gang situation in Winnipeg.
At this point, I would like to say thank you. We are open to any questions you may have.