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Disarming Edmonton gangs: A look at the guns and brazen violence that has police concerned

This is the second story of a special three-part series by Global News looking at gang violence in Edmonton. Click here to read the first story.

Edmonton is on track this year to record the highest amount of shootings the city has ever seen, according to police.

The Edmonton Police Service’s gang suppression team has been busy keeping tabs on gang members in an effort to prevent more violence from happening.

Ryan Ferry, the EPS sergeant in charge of the gang suppression team, said he believes shootings that are more brazen in nature have also been on the rise, as well as the number of criminals carrying guns in public places.

“(Shootings are) happening where these people find themselves in safe havens, and unfortunately that’s where their families are, the kids are,” he said.

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Prevention may be the gang suppression team’s primary goal, but it is not able to prevent everything. There is plenty of violence to investigate.

During Global News’ exclusive ride-along with the special police team one Friday night, team members revisited a west Edmonton neighbourhood where a a man was shot in June while walking with his partner and young children.

The shooting was a suspected case of targeted gang violence and it occurred during the day with innocent people nearby.

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“If they (the gang member targeted) weren’t murdered this time, then there will certainly be a next time,” Ferry said.

Another disturbing incident happened in April at a popular downtown Edmonton restaurant.

“Three suspects dragged a male victim out of a restaurant in front of dozens and dozens of witnesses in the middle of the afternoon, around dinner hour, aggressively beat him and stomped on him,” Ferry said.

Police said one suspect arrested was carrying a handgun. The other two got away but not for long. Police alleged one of them posted a video on social media of himself committing the assault, helping investigators to identify him.

“That guy had posted on Facebook a video of him on the balcony of that condo, and it’s a very distinctive view and there’s only one place where that could have been,” Ferry said.

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“We were able to determine the building and the suite based on what he posted.”

It led the gang suppression team to a condo near the Southgate Centre shopping mall and resulted in a significant firearms seizure.

“Inside the suite were seven various fully automatic (and) semi-automatic rifles and machine guns, a fully automatic submachine gun with a silencer fixed to it, and a variable arsenal of ammunition,” Ferry said.

By chance, the third suspect in the restaurant beating then arrived at the suite as he was returning from a shopping trip.

“(This suspect) was in possession of a loaded handgun at the time of arrest,” Ferry said. “He was literally carrying bags of high-end clothing and a strapped purse around his person with a loaded handgun in it.”

The possibility of such an arrest and situation turning violent or into a shootout is something the gang suppression team has considered.

“The gravity of that turning into a lethal force encounter and some sort of gunfight is not lost on us … ” Ferry said.

“But the bigger danger, I think, is leaving these guys alone and not interdicting and not intercepting those firearms.”

Issues involving criminals and guns are adding to the ongoing conversation about bail reform in Alberta.

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“The suspect that was apprehended at the scene,” Ferry said, referring to the investigation into the assault outside the restaurant. “We know for certain that he was on release for two other firearms offences that had occurred within the previous six months, he was found in possession of loaded handguns in two separate criminal investigations. He was released both times.

“Certainly there’s an opportunity for discussion around bail considerations for people in possession of guns and those who mean harm to others.”

As of September, police had already seized 738 firearms in 2023. As of October, police said there have been 188 shooting “occurrences” in 2023, a 47 per cent increase over last year.

Exclusively for Global News, police compiled the seized gun inventory of about a year-and-a-half’s work by the gang suppression team.

The guns shown to Global News included a manufactured MAC-10 submachine gun as well as semi-automatic rifles with extended magazines, which are becoming a big concern for police.

Police said officers are also seeing more compact-style handguns that are small and easy to disguise and hide.

Staff Sgt. Eric Stewart said those are the types of firearms that officers are taking from people in public places.

“I think what’s surprising to a lot of people is the firearms that are in public settings … (like) restaurants,” he said.

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“We talk about some of these licensed establishments that are restaurants that families go to, and these individuals like to come to these places, spend their money (and) go to these higher-end restaurants. But in the meantime, they’re packing handguns like this for protection, or to use if they’re going to commit a violent act with these firearms.”

Stewart said it used to be rare to find a handgun in an investigation, but now it’s a daily occurrence.

“Over the last year, since our handgun ban has come into effect here in Canada, we’re starting to see more of a trend upwards with firearms being imported or coming from the U.S. … which we didn’t see in the past,” he said. “In the past, we saw a lot of domestically-sourced firearms.”

This gun trend makes the gang task force even busier, leading to more prevention efforts and many more investigations.

“We need people to come forward when they know about the presence of these firearms in the hands of these criminals,” Ferry said.

“We would much rather find them in possession of guns and investigate them and prevent harm, rather than try to pick up the pieces after the fact.”

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