Cst. Ryan Katchur speaks to the media in Edmonton, Alberta, on Aug. 16, 2012.
Credits: IAN KUCERAK/EDMONTON SUN/QMI AGENCY
On a quiet Saturday afternoon at a northside Earls restaurant in May 2011, a young male opened fire on three men leaving the eatery, sending two of them them to hospital with non life-threatening injuries.
The gunman, wearing grey sweatpants, black gloves, a black hoodie, and a red T-shirt, fled to a vehicle in the parking lot and sped away. Those involved in the shooting were known to police, who believe the attack was targeted with ties to gangs.
Since that day, up to five cases of gang retaliation have taken place to settle the score.
Compared to 2000 and 2004, where bloodshed among gangs was becoming a regular occurrence on city streets, police say things have cooled down considerably.
Det. Kevin Berge with the city police drug and gang unit, said flareups between rival gangs still happen, but, for the most part, they are at peace - at least, for now.
"There is still shootings. But definitely, for the most part, those people from four years ago are now four years older," said Berge, noting things could still flare up at any time, and brutal violence like stabbings, shootings and carjackings are still common among rival gangs.
"They know because they're older that peaceful is better for them because it (violence) gets the attention of police faster than anyone else."
Police have identified between 32 and 39 gangs in Edmonton at the moment, but that number fluctuates each week with changes in the drug trade and a couple key decisions in court.
Some gangs start locally while others flock to town when things are booming.
They come in webs, said Berge, following supply and demand in the drug trade, and leave when business begins booming elsewhere. Each gang varies when it comes to how sophisticated their business is run.
With Edmonton being the gateway to the north, combined with Alberta's red-hot economy, Berge said the city is an armpit for gangs.
"Alberta has a lot of money so we have a lot of drug trade. It brings in gangsters and drug dealers," said Berge. "That's one thing about gangs Ñ there is no geographic borders."
And Edmonton is unique in that the city isn't controlled by any particular gang. Some of the more predominant ones include Redd Alert, Alberta Warriors, White Boy Posse, 32 Bloods, North End Jamaicans and West End Jamaicans.
Other gangs come and go.
Four years ago, there was a street gang named the Dogpound Gang. They were into selling meth and pushed their product in a certain geographical area, along with stolen property.
But one by one, police began putting members behind bars, and as time went by, the gang eventually disappeared.
"It can be just four or five motivated people that get together for the purpose of creating a criminal offence," said Berge, noting other groups that aren't self named seem to pop up collectively. "You can be a member here, but as soon as you go to jail your membership changes."
One draw of gang life is escaping poverty. But wealthy individuals from a good upbringings also turn to gang life. Some do it for the money and acceptance with a group, said Berge, while others do it to look good in front of certain people, for the nice cars, the flashy lifestyle.
They live in all quadrants of the city, with many owning nice houses, and look like regular people.
Before they can run with a crew, they usually have to endure a series of beatings or other initiations such as a robbery, drive-by shootings or self-mutilation. The same goes when leaving a gang, but often the beatings are more severe.
Berge has seen gang members range in age from 13 to 70.
Gangs recruit anybody they can benefit from, such as family members and friends, but prison is also a recruiting corral.
Berge has seen guys thrown in the slammer for simple criminal offences and come out patched gang members. Those that are high enough in the gang ranks can recruit an entire new crew to make enough money once they are released from cells.
"If your mindset is that this is just a hiccup in my gang business, I'll go and lay there for two years, get out and continue on; they are going to go in there and be more connected," said Berge, who sees a lot of repeat offenders.
"It's unique to each person. They might come out in a different gang and be a bit more wise to the world and their criminality."
Edmonton police use a number of tools and resources for cracking down on city gangs. So far, the confidential gang hot line - 780-414-GANG (4264) - has been its bread and butter.
Berge said there has been success in bringing down predominant gangsters, but detectives love to nab those at the top of the food chain to cripple the criminal activity associated with gangs. The only problem is they are usually out of reach.
"It depends on how smart they are. Some aren't catchable. Some are just so far removed you'll never catch them," said Berge. "As they get older, they get tired of it, so they more delegate or leave the lifestyle because of what it brings."