Turf battles over drugs in Calgary's northeast have escalated into a gang war — amid a criminal landscape that's different from any the city has seen before, police warn.

And Calgarians haven't seen the worst of it yet, according to police who describe a powder keg situation likely to lead to the harm of innocent bystanders.

Lately, the gangs have been "off the hook" in their level of violence, according to Staff Sgt. Quinn Jacques of the guns and gangs unit.

"We can refer to it as a gang war," said Jacques. "We often wonder if they even know why they're fighting. It appears to be so mired in hatred and confusion."

How the violence differs from past gang war

One sign of a gang war in the city is the number of shootings.

Calgary is on track to double the number of shootings this year over last. 

Co-op shooting

Calgary police search the parking lot in front of a northeast Co-op store after a shooting last January. (CBC)

By Dec. 15, 2014, there had been 50 shootings. This year, Calgary is currently sitting at 94, with most shootings taking place in the northeast — including two shootings last weekend, one fatal and the other a drive-by.

Of the 32 homicides in Calgary this year, 15 were shootings, though some of those are not related to organized crime.

Calgary's last gang war, between the FOB and the FK gangs, was also bloody, with more than two dozen homicides from 2002 to 2009.

Though hesitant to play down the violence during that period, Jacques said the latest conflict is different, with gang members impulsively shooting at each other on sight, whereas the attacks during the previous gang war were often planned.

It's an "instant escalation to firearms" now, said Jacques.

Family ties

Most of the crime associated with this gang war is happening in Calgary's northeast, primarily in districts four and five.

The guns and gangs unit has identified six to seven groups and singled out 59 men who are considered "high level" participants in them.

A list of those men has been distributed to officers in the city, so they can be extra cautious if they encounter them and to help enforce conditions such as curfews.

Calgary New Year's Eve party shooting

A total of seven people were shot, one fatally, after shooting erupted at New Year's Eve party in Calgary. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

Those identified by police are mostly young men of Middle Eastern descent — although like the Asian street gangs of the early 2000s, they're not exclusively one ethnicity.

Internally, police have used a label of MEOC — Middle Eastern organized crime — but they are trying to avoid that inflammatory designation.

Though gang members are often linked by ethnicity, their connection has far more to do with geography.

For the most part, they were born and raised in Calgary and attended high school together in the northeast.

In another departure from previous organized crime in Calgary, many of the gangsters are brothers and cousins.

And unlike some of the more rigid hierarchies in previous gangs, these gangsters are more fluid, sometimes moving among the six to seven groups.

Bystanders at risk, police warn

Although the gangsters are themselves most at risk, there is great concern that police officers and the community, particularly northeast neighbourhoods, will face harm amid outbreaks of violence.

Police are bracing for a worst-case scenario, when an innocent bystander is caught in the crossfire. 

"I think it's inevitable," said a member of the guns and gangs unit, whom police asked CBC not to name to protect the officer's safety and investigations.

"You can't drive down Whitehorn Drive shooting at a moving vehicle or walk into a barber shop and shoot somebody and not expect to have eventually, some unintended target getting shot."

Family Feuds: Calgary's New Gang War is a series that examines the gun violence happening in the city. Stories will focus on who the gangsters are and how they're policed and prosecuted. Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary. You can follow her on Twitter: @CBCMeg

View the next story in this series: 'Off the hook' violence and family connections define Calgary's all-out gang war