Vol. 76, No. 2Editorial message

What feeds a gang?


The answer depends on who you ask. One person might tell you poverty, boredom or a lack of positive role models. Another might say the pull of money and notoriety. Some would even say too little enforcement.

All these answers, and many others, have merit. And in putting together this issue on gangs, it became apparent that no one person, agency or organization has the solution, nor should they be expected to. The good news is that collaboration is making a difference.

In our cover story, Deidre Seiden speaks to members of the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit in British Columbia about their new mandate and message: gang violence won't be tolerated. The unit's integrated approach combines enforcement, disruption and suppression activities with public engagement and education, all with the help of police, academics and community partners. Called the End Gang Life campaign, it's already having an impact in the form of fewer gang-related homicides province-wide.

Sigrid Forberg writes about the migration of big-city urban gangs to small and mid-size cities in Alberta and the Northwest Territories and how – with limited resources – police are finding new, creative ways of combating their illegal activities.

Violence and gang activity are also challenging First Nations communities across Canada. Forberg speaks to the Crime Reduction Enforcement Support Team in Manitoba, which helps northern RCMP detachments in that province tackle prolific violence more proactively, and the Aboriginal Police Section in Alberta, whose current focus is providing exit strategies for gang members. The common thread in both approaches is to dive into the root causes of the problem to find a more tailored solution.

While traditional methods of enforcement are essential, police are now paying close attention to gang members' online activity.

The Cincinnati Police Department learned just how much information gang members share on social media during an investigation into the city's largest street gang. Capturing images, videos and timely posts about gang members can make the difference in the outcome of police investigations.

While smartphones may be the latest communication tool for gang members, words from a can of spray paint shouldn't be overlooked. Det. Sgt. Lee Jones of the Saskatoon Police Service explains the difference between gang and hip-hop graffiti, deciphers what's being said, and reminds investigators that gang graffiti is full of useful intelligence.

Many of the characteristics of a street gang haven't changed over time: members tend to be young adult men with an identifiable leader who engage in criminal activity. But according to Dr. Cathy Prowse, an anthropologist and former police officer with the Calgary Police Service, modern gangs are proving to be far more fluid and mobile than their turf-driven counterparts. Read about this new breed of gang, and the implications for police.

Finally, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, urban street gangs pose a long-standing challenge for police. Deidre Seiden speaks to police officers with the United Nations Police in Haiti who explain the complexity of the gang problem there, and how the best response goes beyond just making arrests.

There's more to read outside the cover including a fascinating research study that measured the actual activity level of on-duty officers. Spoiler alert: you may want to take advantage of the summer to step up your off-duty workouts.

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