‘I consider this city safe’

If they were sweating, it wasn’t just from the heat of the sun.

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner and two senior police officers staged a press conference outside Canada’s biggest RCMP detachment on Monday afternoon following the latest couple of shootings.

Two more shootings over the weekend brought the total number, since the beginning of March, to 36. One of the 36 was fatal. All told, police believe 18 of the shootings are linked to a war over dial-a-dope drug turf in Surrey and North Delta.

"As we investigate, gather further forensic evidence and information, that number may increase," Surrey RCMP Superintendent Manny Mann said.

Inspector Joanne Boyle, team leader of investigations, Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, outlined the police’s theory.

"I believe this was an attempted takeover by one group from a group that already had a stronghold in that Newton area and it’s unfortunately a very lucrative drug trade out there, not just in Newton, but in all areas, and there was an attempt to take that over and a push to let it be known that the dialers that were there needed to find elsewhere to work," Boyle said. "This is not a gang, these are dial-a-dopers."

The politicians and police say they are doing all they can to stop this violence, but one wonders how long the city has before these ongoing shootings cement Surrey’s reputation as Inglewood North.

Hepner sees the shootings as an "anomaly issue."

"I don’t think you see this kind of constant turf war going on for these many months," she said. "So I consider this city safe, but I consider this issue to be top of mind for every single politician and police officer.

"I am going to stand by my safe city, but a safe city in need of resolving this very significant, intolerable issue."

"We’re doing what we can," Hepner told the reporters. "We have made significant progress since March, and we are not loosening the grip on this issue. Today is an example of how we’re standing strong and together to make sure that that grip is not loosened and the public understands that."

But, with no end of these shootings in sight, how strong can that grip really be?

THE PROGRESS First, the good news. Mann reports that since the turf war began in March seven people allegedly related to the conflict have been arrested and charged with 50 drug and firearms-related crimes.

Moreover, police have checked more than 1,600 people and 1,360 vehicles to date. Of those vehicles, 36 have been seized as crime-related property. Boyle said the government might also seize homes.

"Residences could as well be seized as a result of this conflict. So I think that parents and willing participants in this conflict need to be alert to that fact."

Eight firearms have also been seized and police are awaiting the results of ballistics tests, which should be ready in coming weeks, to find out if any of those guns were used in the shootings. Mann added police have also

laid 262 charges "independent of the conflict," resulting from the investigations.

"Significant resources get deployed on a daily basis in that Newton area," he said.

Hepner said police are doing everything they can "within the extent of the law to bring the full weight of the law.

"What I really want to say is I hope when these people get to the courts that the full weight of sentencing occurs and that the courts understand how severely punished the people need to be in order to ensure that this is a deterrent to this kind of activity in any civil society."

Hepner said her office is receiving complaints that police are stopping and searching people too many times.

"As long as this public threat is there, we will not be loosening the grip on this issue," she vowed.

THE CHALLENGES Suspects and victims are snubbing police. So are families of those alleged to be involved in the drug feud, and even some businesses.

Boyle said police recently executed a search warrant on the family home of a young man believed to be involved in the conflict and found his bedroom walls, which face the street, had been fortified with plywood and ceramic tiles.

"It appears that this family had taken measures to safeguard their son," she noted.

Boyle said she personally spoke with the mother of another young man allegedly "entrenched in the drug trade and this conflict."

"I attended the family home," she recalled. "The mother refused to open the door to me and through a translator she told me that she was embarrassed to have the police at her home and asked me not to return."

In another case, Boyle said, police officers were stymied while trying to interview a victim of a recent shooting. They showed him some pictures from a security camera, she said. "While not denying that the photos were of himself, clearly visible from the unique tattoos that he had on his arms, he adamantly denied being there that night.

"These are three of many stories that represent the hurdles our investigators are continually facing. Despite these, we remain unified and committed to both the community and our investigation."

Mann noted that investigators have also encountered "very uncooperative businesses" while trying to obtain security surveillance footage.

"Police have encountered some businesses not willing to turn over video," he said. As a result, police had to secure warrants, which delayed their investigation.

Mann would not name the businesses. Asked what he makes of their reluctance to co-operate with police, he replied, "I suppose some of the businesses, their own legal parameters, they have that policy inside."

THE LATEST SHOOTINGS Friday, June 13: Two men were shot but are expected to fully recover after a shooting outside a home in the 5700-block of 152nd Street. Police don’t believe this shooting is linked to the drug turf war.

Saturday, June 14: Two men were shot during an exchange of gunfire in the 18600-block of Highway 10. Their wounds were not lifethreatening. Police believe this shooting is related to the drug war. "Both victims in this shooting are very uncooperative," Mann said.

At press time investigators were looking for a silver Pontiac Vibe that took off from the scene. Police had seized an SUV and were obtaining a search warrant to examine it on the inside for evidence.

Boyle said it’s a "task" to stay on top of the shootings.

"I do think that we had a period where the shootings had slowed," she said. "What that did was give our investigators time to go back and review the previous instances, so I am hugely disappointed that there has been a spike again this weekend."

MAYOR FLOATS IDEA Hepner wants victims who snub police efforts to put an end to these shootings to pay their own hospital bills rather than be cared for at the taxpayers’ expense.

"What’s really frustrating for me is that these people are taking full advantage when they’re hurt, when they’re injured, when they’re shot, and some of them are shot more than one time, to be very willing participants in our health care system," Hepner told reporters.

"When you see their level of co-operation into making what could stop, stop – there is no co-operation. So, as well as being severely punished, which I hope happens, and the full weight of the law behind them, I’d also like to see, and I will be exploring with our attorney general, is there any opportunity under the Civil Forfeiture Act, to change it, that they can now pay back to you and to me, the costs of their unnecessary care given what’s going on right now.

"If it is, I want it to happen," Hepner said. "They should be paying back the cost, or their family should be paying back the cost. This is really quite unconscionable within any civil society."

tom.zytaruk@thenownewspaper.com

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