SERIOUS CRIMES: Tackling the biggest threats to the Kamloops community

By Ashley Legassic
December 3, 2018 - 2:30pm

KAMLOOPS — Last week, CFJC Today sat down with Kamloops RCMP Plainclothes Commander Staff Sgt. Simon Pillay to discuss issues around the community, and how plainclothes units deal with them.
Plainclothes units include the Serious Crimes Unit, the Targeted Enforcement Unit, and the General Investigation Support Team. Pillay has a long history with RCMP forces across the country, and has been here in Kamloops for the past three years. His role is to oversee all operations of these units, and move resources back and forth to deal with various files that come and go. This is the second of a three-part webseries focusing on organized and drug-related crime in Kamloops, and its impact on the community. Part One can be found here.

Who poses the biggest threat to the Kamloops community?

This is a question that the Kamloops RCMP's Targeted Enforcement Unit asks on a daily basis. Drug investigators don't prioritize their tasks by who's moving the most product. Although it can play a part in their decision-making process, the top priority is what or who is threatening public safety.

Kamloops RCMP Staff Sgt. Simon Pillay is the plainclothes commander of the detachment, overseeing three different units.

"We prioritize our targets by who is the biggest threat to this community. There's always different organized crime groups vying for territory in this community," Pillay says. "But who we target and who we don't target is based on public safety. So... you hear in pop culture the 'war on drugs' — that's really a mischaracterization of what's going on. We are prioritizing those who we see as a threat because of their use of violence."

In the past three years, different groups have tried to establish dominance in the city. That includes the Red Scorpions and the now defunct Wolfpack. With organized crime groups comes violence, something that the RCMP has focused intently on since a rash of gun crime in the city last year.

Investigations into these gangs take time and, as Pillay points out, money.

"When we deal with organized crime investigations, these are the most complicated and difficult, expensive investigations to run," he says.  

In June 2016, Kamloops RCMP said they had executed seven search warrants in a four-month period to gain information about the people moving in and out of Kamloops as part of the Wolfpack gang. The information led police to Agassiz where 17 firearms were seized. At the time, police said they were actively pursuing the group.

This came after police arrested 10 people who were connected to the gang earlier that month.

It took less than six months for police to shut down the Wolfpack, which Pillay says is an incredibly short amount of time for an organized crime investigation.

“When a group is expanding, that’s always a great time to try to investigate them, because they’re into uncharted territory,” Pillay explains. “They haven’t rooted in and really protected themselves. But when you launch a covert investigation into an organized crime group, you really never know when this is going to end, because it depends how things go for the police — what techniques work, what don’t — so it’s really impossible to try to quantify these things.”

“But in (the Wolfpack) case, it’s an investigation that just went well, so we were able to wrap it up,” he explains. “But when you look at larger-scaled groups who span larger territories, to say an investigation took five years or 10 years is not unusual at all… because you’re building just step by step the evidence that you need to try to get this thing to a place where you can lay charges and make a real difference in the community.”

Organized crime is rarely a local issue — it’s not uncommon for RCMP detachments to call upon bigger, more specialized units to assist in these investigations. After the Wolfpack was disbanded in June 2016, police believed gang-related crime in the city had essentially come to an end. To keep things that way, the Kamloops detachment called on the Gang Enforcement Unit from Vancouver.

Together, the two forces checked suspected drug houses, made eight arrests and impounded three vehicles. At the time, police said this helped create “intel” for the future.

But the public often doesn’t hear of these investigations until they’re complete. Pillay says there’s a good reason for that.

“It’s very difficult to comment on open, ongoing files obviously, but what I can tell you is that every active serious crime case going on in the Serious Crime Unit right now is organized crime-related,” Pillay says. “The only cases worked on by the Targeted Enforcement Unit are organized crime. So that alone should give you kind of a sense of how seriously we treat that issue.”

The murder of ex-Red Scorpion Shirzad still hasn't been resolved, and neither has this year's homicide of Troy Gold, a prolific offender who had previously been convicted of manslaughter. With two high-profile criminals being murdered within just over a year of each other, it raises questions of whether or not there is a turf war going on in the city.

"(Are) there conflicts going on right now? Absolutely there are. It's an oversimplification to describe it as a turf war — really the violence happening inside organized crime circles is for numerous reasons, sometimes it is just competition for territory, often times it's internal politics in the drug community," Pillay explains. "We're always very cautious of tipping our hand so to speak. There is some general things that we can say. There's always organized crime entities in this community, mostly trying to sell drugs and compete for ground, and violence erupts in there and there are conflicts that ebb and flow on an ongoing basis."

When organized crime groups resort to violence, it’s almost exclusively toward other criminals — but it is not unheard of to have innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire. The community saw that firsthand when a 24-year-old man was hit by a bullet fired in a neighbouring apartment last year in Brocklehurst.

“That’s exactly the concern,” Pillay says. “We have seen in Kamloops numerous occasions of shots fired in public places. We are always very wary of the fact that that could affect an innocent person.”

“Every life obviously matters, but people who actively participate in organized crime knowingly put themselves in harm’s way. But innocent people just trying to mind their own business, that’s a whole different category of victim because these are people who should be safe at all times in this community.”

Pillay stresses the fact that he doesn’t want to sound alarmist, adding that he chose Kamloops specifically to raise his family, and considers it a very safe city.

Something as small as a tip from the public can launch a lengthy investigation that leads to a significant disruption in the local drug trade, which fuels organized crime groups.

An unsealed search warrant details a drug investigation into an apartment unit on Tranquille Road, launched in May of this year after a tip from the public.

Police conducted surveillance of the home over several days, and officers noticed several people with criminal histories going to the apartment and leaving after a short visit.

After observing this, officers checked on the address and found a number of police files related to it.

Most of those files involve known drug users and dealers hanging around the area, including an associate of several known drug dealers and the sister of a known drug dealer, a woman who had been facing drug trafficking charges at the time, and a number of people who had attended the home and left with some sort of drugs in their possession.

A woman who lived inside the house had a criminal record of drug trafficking and drug possession, and a man who lived there had previous convictions including manslaughter and assault causing bodily harm.

Police began the investigation into this unit this past May, and after hours of surveillance on June 6, officers saw several people going to and from the unit. Arrests were made and officers ended up seizing drugs, firearms and different paraphernalia from the unit.

This investigation paints a small picture of what plainclothes and drug investigation officers deal with on a daily basis — scoping out the community threats and acting on them.

One message Pillay makes sure criminals know: violence of any kind attracts police attention.

"What we hope that they learn is that... violence attracts police investigations. Every time I'm in an interview room with a participant of an organized crime group, I'm making that very clear. Gun violence, use of guns, this attracts police and that's why this group has been targeted. That is just one of the many steps we (take to) try to mitigate violence on our streets."

In the third part of this series, we'll look into the homicides of Troy Gold and Konaam Shirzad, and how difficult it is for police to solve these cases when they involve known criminals.

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