There’s a lot to be said for standing up to the bad guys, and I’m impressed with the way our province’s top cop has done just that. In leather vests with the winged death’s-head patch or in business suits, the Hells Angels are not welcome; the same goes for rival crime groups.
In law enforcement circles, OMG refers to outlaw motorcycle gangs. We’ve heard references to them in recent weeks, but their presence in our province is not new. What is different is the public messaging we have seen from our police, our mayor and our premier, and it is very refreshing.
Royal Newfoundland Constabulary Chief Bob Johnston was right to take the sheriff’s approach.
Like a scene from the old westerns, he told the bikers, essentially, “not in my town.” Since then, the streets have been abuzz as Johnston’s officers backed up his words with violence-suppression tactics, reaching out to likely associates of suspects and telling them this stuff won’t be tolerated.
Most longtime citizens will attest that metro St. John’s of late has graduated to a new level of crime; home invasions, more break-ins and armed robberies.
We’ve had two bank heists in less than six months, and now firebombs and the drive-by shooting. We’re apparently dealing with organized crooks who not only don’t have a lot of common sense, but their intelligence is sadly lacking. Police tell us the culprits shot up the wrong place.
There was a time in the ’70s and ’80s that biker gangs would regularly visit our province for concerts or an annual get-together hosted by a local motorcycle club. There was little trouble, but times were different. Now we’ve joined the wealthy, and the crooks want their share. Some get greedy and want a bigger share. So here we are.
In the past decade, reports prepared by Criminal Intelligence Service Canada (CISC) have warned about outlaw motorcycle gangs and organized crime.
CISC is an organization that helps share criminal information and intelligence within the law-enforcement community.
Ten years ago, its annual report identified outlaw motorcycle gangs as a “serious criminal threat in Canada.” At the time, the Hells Angels were called the most powerful OMG with 34 chapters across the country. The 2003 report said “Control over criminal networks and subordinates is maintained by intimidation and violence.”
It said “In Newfoundland and Labrador, despite their lack of physical presence, the Hells Angels continue to exert their criminal influence in this region through associates and/or local criminals.”
Move ahead a few years to 2006, and the CISC report quotes then RNC chief Joe Browne as saying, “Increased penetration by organized crime groups is expected as the economic conditions in Newfoundland and Labrador begin to mirror other provinces.”
The following fall, Operation Roadrunner led to arrests and links to a drug ring controlled by the Hells Angels.
Browne was quoted in The Telegram on Oct. 14, 2007, as saying the Angels’ “tentacles reach throughout the country. We’re not isolated from it. They’re not as established here as they are in Quebec, where they actually have identifiable headquarters. And our job is, to the extent we can, to prevent that from happening.”
The 2010 CISC report quotes RCMP assistant commissioner Bill Smith as saying, “The overall impact of organized crime groups has been present within Newfoundland and Labrador for many years. The province has experienced new found prosperity in recent years and as a result has become even more inviting for organized crime groups to expand and increase their markets and influence.”
The point of the history lesson is that the cops were on to all of this well before we were. As Johnston has said, they’ve had success in the past in detecting, disrupting and dismantling organized crime groups. Their mission is to continue to do likewise.
The people who ordered the firebombing and the drive-by shooting went too far, taking their battles into innocent people’s neighbourhoods.
It may take some time for all of this to play out, but the events of May 31 may have been a turning point.
Gerry Phelan is a journalist and former broadcaster.
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org