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Gangs of Saskatoon 2003

Keith Atkinson

CTV report pointed out:

  • Riversdale is a socio-economic ghetto
  • Saskatoon has the second highest crime rate in Canada
  • quoted Sgt. Atkinson as telling us this is just a taste of what is to come

Both Winnipeg and Saskatoon have Police Services who have been under scrutiny for disclosure violations, abusive investigations and other irregularities. Giving them more money will not solve any problems. Cleaning up the police should not be costly. Firing Brian Dueck would free up some money right fast.

Gang-related crime likely to increase in Saskatoon

As street gangs grow, Saskatonians should brace for more sporadic violence, suggests the inspector who heads Winnipeg's fight against gangs.

"If it mirrors Winnipeg, what you're going to see is the drive-by shootings, the armed robberies all done by gang members (and) vicious assaults of gang members by opposing gangs," said Insp. Blair McCorrister, who's in charge of Winnipeg's 13-officer organized-crime unit.

Saskatoon police say some of the people involved in a shooting in the 200 block of Avenue H South in Riversdale Tuesday have gang connections. But they add it's unlikely the shooting, which sent four men to hospital, was motivated by gang activity.

The area's city councillor, Owen Fortosky, hopes the shooting will be a "wake-up call" to councillors who don't support more police funding.

"Unfortunately, the incidents are happening on a more regular basis."

He said Riversdale will continue to demand foot patrols. But the best strategy against gangs, he said, is addressing underlying social problems like slum housing and lack of food.

"If people can survive, they don't have to turn to these things."

Police scrapped foot patrols in favour of bike patrols years ago, said Sgt. Jerry Boechler, who oversees Saskatoon's community liaison officers.

"The police service looked at where it can get the most bang for its buck in terms of manpower," he said.

Gang activity, while most common on the west side, is too spread out for foot patrols to be effective, he said. Four street gangs, Indian Posse Crazy Cree, Mixed Blood and Native Syndicate, are dominant in the city.

Winnipeg Police Service, which has been dealing with street gangs since the late 1970s, has had some success beefing up police presence with foot patrols, said McCorrister. It's not a fail-safe strategy, however, particularly if police are trying to cover a large area, he said.

After Winnipeg police cracked down on street gangs, the gangs turned to drug trafficking with better-organized gangs like Hells Angels.

Riversdale has had its own police detachment since January, located a few blocks from the shooting scene. The Little Chief Community Station is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week.

"What kind of difference is it making? I don't know," said Boechler. "It's a perception thing — if police are nearby, things are safer. But that's not always the case."

The police commission is requesting a $2.9-million budget increase from the city to keep up with inflation and wage increases and to enable the department to hire five more constables, among other staff.

Constant interaction with gang members by police, Native elders and social agencies, as well as gang education in schools is crucial, McCorrister said.

"Enforcement alone doesn't work. You need to be able to reach out to those who want to leave the gang.

Saskatoon has a four-officer organized-crime unit. Community liaison officers educate the public about gangs.

Education is a major part of the force's approach, said Staff Sgt. Al Kopelchuk, who oversees the organized-crime unit. He deferred detailed questions about its gang strategy to the officers, who were unavailable for comment.

The police service has no plans to increase resources to the organized-crime unit next year, Kopelchuk said, although gang-related crime is growing in the city.

Saskatoon owes some of its street gangs to Winnipeg. Some are expanding into Saskatchewan simply because members are too well-known to Winnipeg police. Corrections Canada is also inadvertently aiding the spread of gangs by sentencing members to serve time in penitentiaries away from home, hoping to break up gangs, McCorrister said.

"All they're doing is making ties elsewhere."

Police have announced no arrests in connection with Tuesday's shooting and won't identify the victims, said acting Insp. Keith Atkinson.

Police doubt gang link in shooting: Dispute likely personal

The Riversdale shooting that sent four men to hospital involved several people with street-gang connections, but Saskatoon police said Wednesday they doubt it was a gang-motivated incident.

That means the dispute, which took place in the 200 block of Avenue H South Tuesday, was likely personal, not a crime intended to benefit a gang, said acting Insp. Keith Atkinson.

Police aren't saying if the victims, shooters or both have gang connections or with which gangs they're affiliated. They have laid no charges.

One block resident, who watched the shooting's immediate aftermath, suspects gangs are at the heart of the matter.

"I'm positive it was gang-related," said the young father.

Around supper time he heard a commotion and peeked down the block to house 231.

His neighbours were milling around the house when he saw four young men, all wearing red, sprinting out of the house. One of them held a bloody rag to the side of his head.

"He must have been nicked, but he was all right," said the man, who doesn't want to be identified. "He went right by me. I said, 'Looks like you could use some help.' He said, 'No,' and kept going."

One of Indian Posse's colours is red, said Atkinson, adding that he's not aware of the house's occupants wearing that colour.

A group of people had entered the house, which is a rental property, uninvited Tuesday, prior to the shooting. Three men in their 20s were checked into hospital the evening of the shooting. One is listed in serious condition, while the others are described as stable. A fourth man was treated and released.

Police have interviewed two of the four and are waiting for the other two to recover.

"It's progressing well," Atkinson said of the police investigation. "The investigation is not hitting any dead ends."

Police said the victims were visiting at the house at the time of the shooting. Nothing appears to have been stolen.

"This wasn't a random act of violence on strangers," Atkinson said. "These people seem to have some connections with each other."

A small-calibre gun of some type is believed to have been used in the shooting. Police seized two knives from the scene but have not confirmed they were used in the dispute.

Three or four school-age children live in the house. At least one is believed to have been home at the time of the shooting.

"They looked fine," said Princess Alexandra School principal Yves Bousquet, who talked to the kids the next day. "My guess is they're suffering from a bit of shock."

Staff at the school, which is located on the same block as the shooting scene, formed a plan the same night to address the incident with students. Counsellors and social workers briefed staff before the school day began and later met with students in groups or individually.

"We want to stress to them that they are safe here," Bousquet said. "Kids are not seeing this as a personal thing. Not as 'something that's going to happen to me next.' "

No one was answering the door Wednesday at the Avenue H residence. A young man who said he lives in the house arrived home Wednesday afternoon, saying he was looking for his mother and sister.

"None of my family was hurt," he said, declining to give his name.

"That's going to get me in trouble with the same people."

Claudette Bear, who also lives on the 200 block, described the residents of the Avenue H home as a "nice" young couple.

"I'm just in shock right now. I don't know what to think . . . I'm not scared for us. I'm more worried about other gang members, whether there will be more outbursts."

The best way to discourage crime in the area is for police to patrol on foot, said resident El Hrytsak.

"Everyone cleans up their act when police are around."

Bousquet said he's concerned the shooting will give the neighbourhood a bad reputation.

"There's an image of what Riversdale is — and then there's the real Riversdale . . . This is not the way the neighbourhood is."