Vancouver police are saying they have delivered a major blow to organized crime in the Lower Mainland.
“Project Territory represents a significant, and I would say one of the largest that I’ve seen in my career, disruption to the ongoing gang violence in the region,” Supt. Mike Porteous said Friday morning.
The 17-month long investigation has resulted in 92 criminal charges against 14 individuals, including the parents of some of the gang members. Porteous said the individuals are closely aligned with the Red Scorpions, specifically with Jamie Bacon and Kyle Latimer, who was arrested this week, and had conflicts with several other organized crime groups in the Lower Mainland.
“As a result of that we had an ongoing violent conflict,” he said. “Multiple shootings and murders in the region are attributed to the conflict and the Kang/Latimer group has participated in those over the past few years.”
The months-long investigation also resulted in the seizure of 93 firearms, more than 16,000 rounds of ammunition and 59 prohibited devices, including silencers, over-capacity magazines and automatic weapons, and a pressure cooker bomb. Officers also seized 10 kilograms of fentanyl, 40 kilograms of cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin, $833,000 in Canadian cash, $800,000 in Red Scorpion designed jewelry and $350,000 in collector cars.
Project Territory is just one part of a larger operation. Started by Vancouver police in March 2017, the operation, dubbed Task Force Tourniquet, involved several investigations targeting four major, violent crime groups in the region. The provincial Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C. joined the operation in September 2017, and by January of this year every police department in the Lower Mainland had committed resources to the task force, as well as the RCMP’s Integrated Homicide Investigation Team.
Porteous said at its peak, some 45 full-time investigators from across the region were working on Task Force Tourniquet.
“Project Territory was wide-sweeping and has been very successful,” said Staff Sgt. Lisa Byrne, team commander on the task force. “We have taken weapons off of the street and disrupted violent activities being committed by several different crime groups.”
Since March 2017, the work of the task force has resulted in 34 individuals facing a total of 201 charges and additional charges are expected as the investigation continues.
Byrne said investigators also noticed some disturbing trends in organized crime in the region. One trend officers discovered was that gang members are subletting high-end rental properties, often facilitated by a management company that specializes in providing properties to gang members.
“They are doing this because these properties contain security features which they believe keeps them safe mostly from rival gangs,” she said. “These are often towers either in the downtown cores of various cities, Surrey, Vancouver, Richmond, or other buildings throughout the region and high-end properties in North and West Vancouver.”
One management company was renting properties to several different rival crime groups.
“My team found this particularly disturbing because we had rival gang members housed within dozens of metres of one another and the potential for spontaneous violence and gun play was obviously something that was super concerning for us when we saw this happening,” Byrne said.
She added that short-term rental properties are also being used. In many cases the property is being rented by the management company then sublet to the gang members, often without the property owner knowing what’s going on.
And gang members and their associates aren’t just looking for a place to call home. Byrne said the properties are often used for processing fentanyl and cooking drugs, storing firearms, cash and drugs, or hosting parties.
“Several of these parties are also linked to violent events where drive-by shootings occurred, assaults occurred and murders occurred,” she said.
Byrne said investigators have also noticed a trend of parental involvement in organized crime groups.
“In the broad spectrum of all of the projects that we have run over the last year and a half we have noticed that parental involvement, at times, can be anywhere ranging from being complicit in the activities, willfully blind of their children’s activities, or completely unaware of their children’s activities,” she said.
The three parents recently arrested as part of Project Territory are facing charges of participating in a criminal organization.
“In order to start to combat this gang violence problem, enforcement is not the only thing that police departments are doing,” Byrne said. “Parental engagement is necessary to assist in preventing gang involvement.”
Porteous said the department has seen a decrease in gang-related violence in the 18 months since Task Force Tourniquet started, adding that during the course of several of the related investigations investigator were able to intercept gang members allegedly on their way to kill someone.
“This type of strategy works in mitigating violence and we’re seeing a downtick, I just looked at the statistics in Vancouver recently and we’re down somewhere like 40 per cent for shootings,” he said.