KAMLOOPS — Earlier this 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 first of a three-part webseries focusing on organized and drug-related crime in Kamloops, and its impact on the community.
At this time last year, police in Kamloops were dealing with the fallout from a spate of gun violence in the city.
This year, things have been more stable, but the plainclothes commander of the Kamloops RCMP detachment says officers are still responding to firearms-related calls on a daily basis. Those calls can be anything from technical offences under the firearms act, to pointing a firearm, to shots actually being fired.
"If we take all of our firearms types of offences... between 2013 and 2018 overall they're up 40 per cent," Staff Sgt. Simon Pillay says. "So when you hear gun crime is up 40 per cent in that short of a period, of course it sounds alarming, but police statistics... you always have to understand them in the broader context."
Pillay says guns in Kamloops are getting in the hands of criminals at a slowly increasing rate, adding that this isn't a problem specific to Kamloops. The evidence backs up his claim.
A search through the unsealed search warrants at the Kamloops Law Courts uncovers lengthy drug investigations from not only Kamloops, but Merritt, Clinton, Lillooet and Lytton. Many of those investigations involve criminals with firearms in their possession.
One search warrant involving a break and enter at the Tournament Inn in Valleyview on Sept. 13 looked at four people who were allegedly involved. In the document, police stated they believed those four suspects broke into a unit at the Tournament Inn by kicking down the door, and clubbing the victim in the head.
While they were arrested, police allegedly found restricted and prohibited firearms and ammunition in their possession.
Kristy Elizabeth Johnson, Sharon Marie Hartling, Steven Stuart Douglas Gardner, and Justin Earl Robert Flundra were all charged with several offences in connection to the crime. Some of the charges include those "technical" firearms offences Pillay spoke about.
A vehicle police believe the suspects used after the crime contained rounds of ammunition inside, and when officers attended the motel room, they say they found a loaded Remington pump action 12 gauge shotgun, a loaded, sawed off Mossberg pump action 12 gauge shotgun, and a loaded Beretta pistol with a .22 caliber round in the chamber and six rounds in the magazine.
At least two of the accused already had court orders that prohibited them from possessing firearms, but still managed to — allegedly — get their hands on more.
The four accused are scheduled for a pre-trial conference next August.
Another incident involving firearms and a motel in Kamloops — hardly an infrequent event — was this past July at a unit in the Motel 6, also in Valleyview. A search warrant details how a Kamloops RCMP constable was making patrols in the area when he spotted several high profile, prolific offenders and their vehicles at the motel property.
Const. Jean-Francois Lapierre called for back up and attended the group. He knew that there had been a break-in in Kamloops earlier that morning, and one in Chase a few days prior. He got permission from the motel owner to search specific areas and stolen items from the break-ins were located. One tenant allowed police into his unit where they located a rifle, and then spontaneously admitted to several other firearms being stored in his unit.
In connection this incident, Tony Daniel Aldridge was convicted of possessing a firearm without a licence or registration, breach of recognizance, and possession of stolen property over $5,000.
He was sentenced to a year in jail.
Issues involving prolific offenders and firearms seem to congregate around local motels.
Another search warrant for an apartment unit on Tranquille Road in May describes how police conducted covert surveillance on multiple days after a complaint about suspected drug dealing. After members went into the home to make arrests, they noticed firearms inside.
Although these offences weren't violent and it could be seen as simply people breaching their conditions by owning firearms, Pillay stresses the importance of keeping firearms out of the hands of the wrong people.
Two major shooting incidents that shook the Kamloops community last year were the shooting of ex-Red Scorpions member Konaam Shirzad outside of his West End home in September, and a shooting on Nelson Avenue that injured two people. Shirzad's death has left the Kamloops drug community unstable as others compete for the spot left open.
"Those two incidents, although unrelated, they came at a time that really surprised the public because they were such extreme incidents," Pillay says. "The reality is, here in Kamloops we're dealing with firearms calls literally every day. There are firearms being used in the criminal subculture here on a regular basis. So have things improved? No, they're not improving. However, we haven't had as many high-profile shooting incidents that affect the public which of course we're all very grateful for."
But it's not just shootings and technical offences that take up the category of firearms calls in Kamloops. Several incidents of people barricading themselves have led to lengthy standoffs for Kamloops RCMP to deal with. Last year, the community watched as one man, who allegedly had weapons, barricaded himself inside of a unit at G & M Trailer Park for 17 hours.
The Southeast District Emergency Response Team had to be called in, and throughout the standoff shots between police and the man were fired — a high pressure situation for officers on scene.
A similar situation happened this past August, when a man barricaded himself inside the Denny's restaurant downtown.
Locals watched in February as several police officers secured the parking lot of the Star Lodge on Columbia Street while they attempted to arrest a man known to have weapons on an outstanding warrant. Police were hiding behind vehicles and railings, guns drawn, hoping there would be no exchange of gunfire.
These incidents put a strain on officers, resources, and the public, but fortunately have rarely ended in serious injuries. Pillay points to statistics that actual violent crime in the city isn't on the rise.
"If you look at actual violent crime — completed serious, violent crime that our Serious Crime Unit would be investigating — that has remained fairly steady," Pillay says. "If you take all the serious offences, group them together, we fluctuate between 17 and 24 completed offences (annually), but it ebbs and flows. So, right now we're actually down a little bit, but still a lot of crime related to firearms."
Part two of this series will be published next week, when CFJC Today will be looking at organized crime and gang-affiliated criminals in Kamloops, along with the impact they have on the public.
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