Watch above: police continue to take steps to control gang violence in Saskatoon
SASKATOON- The first-degree murder trial for Randy O’Hagan, a White Boy Posse member accused of shooting an innocent woman in Saskatoon, came to a close Wednesday.
Closing arguments were made by both the Crown and O’Hagan’s lawyer with a verdict to be delivered May 22.
Home on maternity leave the day of the shooting, Lorry Santos died as the result of a single gunshot wound on the morning of Sept. 12, 2012 after her home was allegedly targeted by mistake by the shooters.
O’Hagan pleaded not guilty and belonged to the Alberta street gang at the time of the shooting. During the trial, witnesses testified O’Hagan had been ordered to kill a former gang member by a high ranking member of the group.
Throughout the trial, court heard gangs have an interest in making sure their members just don’t leave without consequences.
“It’s a violent lifestyle and when you’re in that lifestyle there’s a sense of retaliation once you leave, there’s always a fear of someone coming at you with a knife or gun and now we’re into the world of drive-bys and guns, it’s only getting worse,” said a former gang member who wanted to remain anonymous.
“It takes a long time to get out and finally get free of it and today I don’t have to worry about that.”
“David” said when he joined a gang, he was lured by the sense of belonging and power. His addiction played a big role in it.
“I’m clean and sober now, I’ve got a full-time job, I’ve got a little family, I have got a little house. My life has really turned around.”
Those were things he always wanted but seemed out of reach in the depths of his addiction. That all changed when he started working with STR8 UP.
“The gang lifestyle is dangerous, it’s violent, it’s addictive, there’s not too many good things about it,” said Father Andre Poilievre, founder of STR8 UP.
Established 12 years ago, the organization has helped more than 230 young men and women leave gangs.
“It costs lots of money when they’re in jail so when they’re outside and they’re taking care of their family and they’ve got a job and they’re paying taxes, that’s a heck a lot better than spending time in the penitentiary or correctional centre,” said Poilievre.
Police say there are anywhere from 10 to 12 different gangs working out of Saskatoon at any given time. Eight of those are permanent.
“To say that our public is in danger, I don’t feel that they are, I feel that we the police can do a good job of keeping the majority of the public safe as long as they tell us what the issue,” said Saskatoon police Insp. Jerome Engele with the criminal investigations division branch.
Police urge the public to contact authorities if threatened by gang members or about any activity deemed suspicious.
“What the public should be doing is telling the police everything they know hear and see, because the public is an extension of the police arm without their assistance we can’t operate, we can’t be successful, we need the public to assist us,” said Engele.
Police have had some success cracking down on gangs in Saskatoon but said they can always do better.
“We will tackle any challenge, we’re very capable officers and it comes a matter of the money that’s available to us and resources that we have available,” added Engele.
Engele said in order to bust a major criminal organization, the service would need at least a million dollars in funding and would need to double the integrated organized crime unit.
That would increase the unit from 38 to 76 members who could then dedicate their time to process warrants and background information that would be required for a big bust.
“We do struggle to take on the larger files but it isn’t something we would back away from,” said Engele.
In an effort to help young offenders, federal Justice Minister Peter MacKay announced more than six hundred thousand dollars will be spent over the next four years to help at-risk youth in custody develop skills in order to resist gang involvement.