Nelson a ‘vacation spot’ for gangs

Nelson remains more of a holiday destination for gangs than a place to do business, the city’s deputy police chief says.

The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit has released its second annual report on the heels of an announcement that its budget will be reduced by $2.8 million.

Nelson’s deputy police chief isn’t sure whether cuts to BC’s anti-gang unit will have much effect on our area, which remains more of a vacation destination for gangs than a place to do business.

The province recently announced the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit — a team of 400 officers and civilians from 14 agencies including RCMP and municipal police forces — will have its budget reduced by $2.8 million.

But deputy chief Paul Burkart doesn’t know what impact, if any, that will have on West Kootenay.

“Would we notice it? I’m not so sure,” he said. “There may be trickle-down at some point, where they’re targeting larger players and don’t have the manpower to do it as well as before.”

Burkart said while it isn’t very visible, police often hear about local links to organized crime. “I would suggest they have their fingers in the pie around here. The reality is we have our share of gangs through this area. We have seen gang members and associates show up in Nelson.”

Some of that is related to marijuana grow-ops and harder drugs, he said, but often gangsters are just passing through. A few weeks ago, several Hells Angels stayed at a local hotel, one of the two or three groups who usually pass through in the summer. “Nelson is a place they come to holiday at,” Burkart said. “They also come here as a stop on their way to larger centres.”

Police do talk to bike gang members when they’re in town, Burkart said, and find them “fairly free with information” if they’re on vacation. He stopped some in traffic recently to find out where they were going.

Although gang-related violence is rare in this area, Burkart said there have been a few incidents.

Kootenay Boundary RCMP Staff Sgt. Leanne Tuchscherer, who is new to the area, said she hasn’t seen many signs of gang activity and it’s hard to measure the presence of organized crime, although “ultimately, all drug stuff filters back.”

This week, the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit published its second annual community report, which can be found at bc-anti-gang.com.

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