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Burnaby RCMP anti-gang team working to disrupt gang activity

'There’s young people getting shot and killed. There’s drive-by shootings. We’ve been lucky that there hasn’t been any collateral damage, and we want to keep it that way,' says top cop of gang problem
Gangs operating in Burnaby have been put on notice.

Wherever they’re operating or hanging out, the Burnaby RCMP’s new gang enforcement team plans to show up and ruin the party.

“We’re going to where we see the violent activity, where we’ve seen previous groups of individuals who have warrants or outstanding charges hanging out,” Chief Supt. Deanne Burleigh told the NOW before her retirement Monday. “We’re going to target known hangouts, known clubhouses. We’re looking specifically for drug manufacturing, drug trafficking; possession, use and distribution of firearms. We’re looking at all assault calls, any abductions, robberies, frauds and property-related offences because they’re very much tied to gang activity.”

The 11-member team, clad in a new and distinctive dark-blue uniform, has been out seven days a week since the third week of January, according to Burleigh.

It’s headed by 22-year RCMP veteran Sgt. Sharon Matharu.

“Her background includes drug enforcement; she worked in the drug unit and she was also a member of the B.C. integrated gang task force – very operational, very tactically minded,” Burleigh said.

Gang activity in the city is not new, according to the now-retired top cop.

“There has been a Lower Mainland gang conflict ongoing since the early to mid-2000s,” she said. “Burnaby sits smack dab in the middle of the Lower Mainland. We’ve had shootings, stabbings. We know of subjects living here who have strong ties to that conflict.”

Burnaby saw a 31% increase in gang violence last year compared to 2019, according to the RCMP.

Three out of the four murders in the city in 2020 were gang related as were six stabbings and nine shootings, police said.

The detachment hasn’t ignored the problem, according to Burleigh, who pointed to overtime initiatives and enforcement done by other units, including the drug unit, the community response team and frontline members – but an organized, targeted team has been a goal of hers “all along,” she said.

One important factor pushing the detachment has been the age of the gang-involved individuals officers are encountering, according to Burleigh.

She pointed to the suspected gang slaying of a 14-year-old Burnaby boy in Surrey in December and a recent search warrant executed on the bedroom of a 17-year-old after he allegedly left a loaded handgun in a ride-hailing vehicle. (The search turned up a bucket of bullets, baggies of illicit drugs and a retractable baton.)

“It just became time to say ‘OK, we’re doing what we can do, but can we do more?’” she said. “There’s young people getting shot and killed. There’s drive-by shootings. We’ve been lucky that there hasn’t been any collateral damage, and we want to keep it that way.”

Since early February, the detachment has been sending out tweets about the gang enforcement team’s work.

Along with enforcement, though, Burleigh said police also need to get at the root of the problem and reach out to at-risk youth.

She urged parents and friends to be on the lookout for signs a young person is getting involved in gangs:

“They should be looking for kids who are withdrawing from their family, kids who are being secretive about their new friends or staying out overnight. They come home with injuries that they can’t or won’t explain; they’ve all of a sudden got new toys, new things, new phones, bright, shiny expensive objects; they’ve got unaccounted for large sums of money.”

Anyone concerned about a youth getting involved with gangs should reach out to a liaison officer at a local school or contact the local detachment, Burleigh said. 

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor

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