Metro Morning

Gangs moving criminal activity online, Peter Sloly says

Gangs in Toronto are using social media to conduct criminal behaviour that used to happen only on street corners, says Toronto's former deputy police chief.

Former deputy police chief says disrespect online has led to violence later

Peter Sloly, Toronto's former deputy police chief, said North American gangs are more active than ever online. (CBC)

Gangs in Toronto are using social media to conduct criminal behaviour that used to happen only on street corners, said Toronto's former deputy police chief.

In some cases, disrespect online has led to violence later, Peter Sloly told Metro Morning on Wednesday. Sloly left the police force in February.

Sloly, now an executive director at Deloitte who is focused on preventing cyber crime, said gangs across North America, and in Toronto, are operating online because it's harder for police to track their activities there. 

"There's a greater percentage of time being spent online by both street gangs and traditional organized crime," Sloly said. "It's not a gang-specific thing. It's a millennial approach to using digital platforms to transact things that normally would get done on a street corner."

He said gangs use the Internet to intimidate each other, send messages, share information, plan operations, carry out credit-card fraud and provoke violent incidents that occur on the street later. They also may trade intelligence about how to commit crimes.

Gangs are behind malicious bots and phishing schemes, he said. They sometimes attempt to take over people's identities to use them for financial transactions. The digital world gives them privacy, Sloly said.

"It's a very safe space in terms of there's limited police ability and regulatory ability to get in there. If there is an investigation that is successful, people tend to see the crime as less prominent than if it happened in the real world."

'Dangerous things can happen'

Sloly said the activity is not a cause for alarm but the public needs to be aware.

"Any threat that happens in the real world can happen in the virtual world on a digital platform. There needs to be a level of concern, not panic. The Internet is a good space. Great things happen there. But dangerous things can happen, as well," he said.

"Public institutions, private sector, private individuals have to be adept at managing their affairs and conducting their business in the real world and in the digital world."

Toronto Police Services started a cyber-crime unit in 2014 that has since handled some 2,500 cases. The unit has 11 officers and one analyst.

It's unclear if that will be enough to keep up with the growing issue of cyber crime, but overall, Sloly said, the Internet does more good than harm when it comes to policing.

He said Toronto police noticed a rise in online activity among gangs in 2012 that preceded shootings. That activity, especially on YouTube, include disrespect and intimidation. He said one gang would disrespect another by filming a YouTube video in rival territory and then posting it.

Sloly is set to speak about these issues at a major cyber-security conference in Toronto this week. 

With files from Metro Morning