Kamloops This Week Newspaper – March 29 2011 – B.C. Interior used to cultivate gang lifestyle

B.C. Interior used to cultivate gang lifestyle

March 29 2011

By Tim Petruk – Kamloops This Week

Kamloops might not be seeing the proliferation of gangs like other B.C. cities of a similar size, but the problem could become worse in the future, according to an expert on the province’s organized-crime issues.

“In smaller cities like Kamloops, no one wants to admit that they might have a problem,” said Ranj Dhaliwal, an author and speaker who lectures on organized crime in the Lower Mainland and who has been hired by police agencies to speak to officers about gangs.

“But look at Kelowna, look at Abbotsford. It’s growing across B.C.”

Following last week’s murder of 23-year-old Archie LePretre outside Stuart Wood elementary in downtown Kamloops, local Mounties said organized crime doesn’t have “a strong toe-hold” in the Tournament Capital.

But, police said, friends and associates of organized-crime groups are active in town.

According to Dhaliwal, the presence of such people could indicate a future problem.

“If a gangster moves into Kamloops, there’s a reason for that,” he said.

“If there’s a Lower Mainland gangster living in Kamloops, for example, it doesn’t mean they’re remotely doing their business. It doesn’t work like that. Any businessperson understands that. Maybe the roots aren’t from there, but it is happening.”

Kamloops RCMP Staff Sgt. Grant Learned said police know of multiple gangs active locally — whether it be members, friends or associates.

“He’s right,” Learned said.

“There’s a presence of a number of gangs. In any community, you’re going to have people who are either associates of or friends of or members of [criminal organizations] living in the area.”

Learned referenced Kelowna and Nanaimo as cities similar to Kamloops in size with much more visible gang presences.

“What we don’t have here are the types of things like a chapter of the Hells Angels set up and operating very openly in those communities,” he said.

“We don’t have that here and we have been working extremely hard to prevent the gangs and associates from coalescing and getting established here.”

Dhaliwal said organized crime is already operating in Kamloops and the rest of the Interior, but in a different way than in the Lower Mainland.

He said gangs like to set up marijuana-grow operations in the Interior, while the majority of the drugs — and the violence that typically accompanies their presence — are shipped west.

“Most of the marijuana is grown up there,” he said. “All of Kamloops can’t smoke that amount of weed that’s being grown out there.”

Dhaliwal said gangsters from the Lower Mainland typically come to the Interior to set up a grow-op, hiring local residents to tend the plants.

When it comes time to harvest the crops, he said, the gangsters hire a dozen or so local teenagers to work for a few days.

They’re paid well for what they see as an easy weekend of work, he said, and often become attracted to the gang lifestyle.

“See how one grow-op can turn into a problem for 15 or 16 kids?” he asked. “And once it’s too far gone — look at Surrey. It’s not leaving.”

Dhaliwal said police in communities like Kamloops should admit gangs are a problem and involve the public — something that wasn’t done when organized crime was on the rise in the Lower Mainland in the 1990s.

“It was always, ‘It’s a targeted incident, there’s no public risk’,” he said.

“Then bullets start going through houses, stray bullets, and, all of the sudden, there is a public risk.

“Education is the biggest thing,” Dhaliwal said.

“Admit there’s a problem. If somebody got killed, there’s a problem.

“If grow-ops are getting busted, there’s a problem. It’s not going to go away.”