Jan 19 2012 TORONTO - Police in Toronto and Jamaica say gang-related homicides have significantly declined in the 20 months since the arrests of key leaders of the Shower Posse, a violent criminal organization involved in drug and arms trafficking that operates in several countries.
Jamaican officials say a drastic 32 per cent decline in the Caribbean country's homicide rate is largely thanks to a 2010 crackdown on the Shower Posse, considered to be one of the most dangerous gangs in the world.
In Toronto, homicide rates dropped to a 25-year low last year following a two-year anti-gang campaign that disrupted the Posse.
Toronto police Chief Bill Blair says the decline cannot be specifically attributed to the arrest of Shower Posse leaders but that the gang's influence in the city has "diminished quite significantly."
Several of the alleged leaders of the Toronto wing of the Shower Posse have recently pleaded guilty to a slew of charges, ranging from drug trafficking and conspiracy to racketeering and gun running.
However, none of them has pleaded guilty to membership in a criminal organization — which comes as no surprise to Toronto police Det. Douglas Backus of the guns and gangs task force.
In gangs, pleading guilty to membership in a criminal organization is tantamount to being an "informant" or a "snitch," Backus said.
"It's a death sentence," said the detective.
Backus has no doubt that the Shower Posse — so called because of the gang's penchant for showering enemies with bullets — has had a significant presence in Toronto and other Canadian cities.
Wiretaps collected by Toronto police reveal that leaders of the Toronto wing frequently chatted with a handful of Shower Posse leaders in Jamaica at the height of the country's attempted takedown of the gang's alleged kingpin, Christopher (Dudus) Coke.
Toronto police say the wiretapped phone calls are a clear indication of a formidable alliance between Posse members in Toronto and Kingston.
CBC News has also learned that some of the alleged Posse leaders in Toronto would send a substantial portion of their own earnings to Jamaica, where they bought lavish homes in upscale neighbourhoods and laundered their ill-begotten revenue by investing in legitimate businesses such as trucking, road construction, high-end bars and restaurants.
Toronto police teamed up in 2008 with their counterparts in the U.S. and Jamaica to launch a massive crackdown against violent street gangs operating in the Greater Toronto Area.
Investigators discovered that large quantities of cocaine and marijuana were being shipped from Jamaica to U.S. cities before being smuggled into Canada, where the drugs were repackaged and sold by street gangs in major cities.
Police zeroed in on a handful of suspected drug suppliers and began wire tapping their conversations. In all, over 200,000 wiretaps were conducted over five years.
In 2009 and 2010, police officers conducted raids in Ontario, seizing firearms and drugs. More than 100 suspected gang members were arrested, including key leaders of the Shower Posse, Toronto police say.
But the fight against the notorious Posse is far from over.
Blair and Hinds say much more work needs to be done, both in Toronto and in Kingston.
Jamaican police estimate that 80 per cent of all homicides in the country are committed by criminal gangs.
"If we are able to dismantle these gangs, then we'll see a reduction of at least 80 per cent of our murders, and that will lead to a better quality of life," said Hinds.
Toronto's police chief is optimistic in the aftermath of the city's gang raids.
"There have been significantly fewer homicides this [past] year, and sometimes, it is difficult to quantify what didn't happen," said Blair.
Blair says the force's new community-focused approach could yield even bigger dividends in the future.
"We are not just cutting off the head, but we are making it difficult for anyone to step in and take up the slack that we've created," said Blair. "I think that is important."
"We have learned that lesson, and as we apply it, we are going to have a more positive effect."