UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

“We can’t arrest our way out of this” police responses to gang violence in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland Osterberg, Erin C


Gang violence in the Lower Mainland is the focus of much media, political, policy, and police attention, but a lack of Canadian studies on police and policy responses hinders an evidence-based approach to prevention and control. In light of the gaps in the Canadian knowledge base, this research is an effort to contribute to the understanding of gangs in British Columbia (BC). The empirical data is derived from semi-structured qualitative interviews with 42 police officers and two civilian employees across three jurisdictions: Surrey, Abbotsford, and Delta. These interviews sought to assemble police perceptions and understanding of Lower Mainland gangs with respect to their organization, structure, and the nature of their activities. This examination includes an overview of dial-a-doping as an important characteristic of gangs in BC, perceptions of the implications of ethnicity, and the ways in which what have been termed non-traditional risk factors for gangs present themselves in the BC context. From the interviews, this research describes the policy instruments deployed by police across the three jurisdictions in gang prevention, intervention, and suppression efforts. Given the lack of available empirical data on the efficacy of these efforts, the findings will analyze the efficacy of these responses to suggest ‘what has worked’ as perceived by the police officers tasked with program implementation, and consider police perceptions of the structural, capacity, and resource challenges that may limit the success of police-based policies, strategies, and programs aimed at preventing and controlling gang violence. Finally, a way forward is suggested noting that the response to gang violence in BC requires engagement beyond the police, acknowledging the need to reduce the demand for supply of illicit narcotics, and the need to limit the capacity for predatory wealth accumulation that the police interviewed in this research suggested is the primary motivator for gang participation in BC’s Lower Mainland. This call to address the larger social problems related to mental health and substance abuse, thereby reducing the demand for supply, is in keeping with the longstanding position reiterated by police organizations across the Lower Mainland: “We can’t arrest our way out of this”.

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