Toronto murders drop after Jamaica-based gang crackdown
Kingston-based Shower Posse suspected of drug-, arms-running in Canada, U.S., Jamaica
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.
Since the Shower Posse's inception, the West Kingston neighbourhood of Tivoli Gardens had served as a sanctuary and base for the gang, whose leader, Christopher (Dudus) Coke, had absolute control over the area and was known to its residents as "president."
That changed in May 2010 when Jamaican authorities, under pressure from the U.S., which had requested Coke's extradition on drug and firearms trafficking charges, raided Tivoli Gardens in search of Coke.
Coke's supporters put up barricades to try to prevent the incursion, but the Jamaican police and army smashed through, storming the community.
At least 73 people died in the raid, but Coke was not found at the time. He was arrested the following month and extradited to the U.S., where he pleaded guilty in 2011 to racketeering conspiracy and drug-trafficking charges.
An investigation is still underway into accusations that during the raid, security forces indiscriminately rounded up unarmed residents and shot them in what amounted to extrajudicial executions. However, the investigation has been heavily criticized by groups such as Amnesty International for being ineffective and under-resourced.
Wiretaps reveal connections
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.
In late May 2010, at least 73 people died in the West Kingston neighbourhood of Tivoli Gardens, the gang's home base, when police raided the area in search of Coke.
"They talked about how Tivoli Gardens would be a disaster and how the parishes of West Kingston would come together to fight to prevent it," Backus said.
Toronto police say the wiretapped phone calls are a clear indication of a formidable alliance between Posse members in Toronto and Kingston.
However, a defence lawyer for a man accused of being Toronto's Shower Posse leader argues that there's no evidence that the gang even exists and says the intercepted conversations don't prove anything.
The deputy commissioner of the Jamaica Constabulary Force, Glenmore Hinds, confirmed that his force's investigation showed that Coke certainly had a "franchise in Canada," with members of his Posse distributing drugs in Canada and sending back "tribute payments in the form of cash or illegal guns to Coke."
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.
In wiretaps of Coke's sister, who lives in the Greater Toronto Area, she can be heard telling an associate that her brother was "chilling" in Toronto. Although Toronto police say they never saw him in the city, a reliable source told CBC News that some time in 2009, the notorious drug kingpin, indeed, visited relatives and friends in Toronto and that he was using an alias at the time.
Flying under the radar
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.
With street names such as "Whoppy King," "Blue" and "Showerman," Posse leaders managed to fly under the radar of investigators. Backus says Posse members were also older and more experienced than the young "hot heads" who run typical street gangs.
"[Shower Posse members] are often quiet and sophisticated when compared to the street gangs that do their dirty work for them," Backus said.
The future fight
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."