Drugs, stabbings, weapons and piles of cash - all have been associated with the 856 gang, the newest player on the proverbial block in Yellowknife.
An attack at the city’s Coyote’s Steakhouse that left a victim in hospital with multiple stabwounds was only the most recent in a string of activity connected to the 856 gang, which has slowly been moving in from Aldergrove and Langley, B.C. to northern British Columbia, Alberta and now the NWT over the last several years. The gang’s name represents their hometown area code, and members can be identified by the numbers tattooed on the inside lip.
According to Staff Sgt. Craig Peterson, who until recently oversaw investigations into the 856 gang in Yellowknife, local RCMP first noticed them around January 2013.
“Nobody’s really tapped the North and Yellowknife like the 856 has,” Peterson said. “They‘ve managed to move in fairly easily and without a lot of resistant violence that we’ve seen and they’ve managed to make a pretty good name for themselves in the drug world and the criminal world – and financially.”
Last December, an operation called Project Goblin saw Yellowknife RCMP raid four residences and a storage locker associated with the gang, where police found weapons, drugs and $32,000 in cash. Only two of the nine people arrested ended up doing jail time.
“This new gang is organized. They have some backing from stronger organized crime groups in the lower mainland like the Hell’s Angels,” Peterson said.
Since setting up shop in the North, the gang has been known to sell crack-cocaine, powdered cocaine and marijuana, though other extensions of the group have been caught with Oxycontin and heroin, as well.
Started as mischievous kids
According to investigator Richard Koranski, who used to provide operations support for Langley RCMP, the gang started out as a group of high school students around 2006.
“It was almost like being in water and they’re slowly increasing the temperature and we didn’t realize how hot the temperature was getting until it boiled,” Koranski said.
Within a year or so, complaints about the gang went from bullying and stealing lunch money to threats and drug activity, which is when local police really started paying attention to their happenings.
Fear of the gang reached a high point when a parent of an 856er was riddled with bullets while dropping his kid off at the local high school. It was later alleged that the parent was somehow associated with the Hell’s Angels.
“It’s bad enough when you get parents that might be enabling kids just by passively not saying to them, ‘Listen, you’ve got to smarten up, you’ve made bad choices,’ but to say, ‘I’m actively involved in a criminal lifestyle and this is how I roll’ – kids generally act how they see their parents acting and that can have a very undermining effect,” Koranski said.
By applying social network theories, which Koranski is studying for his PhD at Simon Fraser University, the investigator pinpointed some of the gang’s key players and knocked them out of the game.
Recruitment and avoidance
“They are always looking for people,” Peterson said about their recruiting habits. “They’re a young gang, so they’re looking for local knowledge, local drug trade people that are younger and influential and that they can take on as part of their group,” he said, describing the 856 gang’s typical recruit.
As for prevention of gang activity, or stopping local kids from being recruited by gangs, Peterson says the work starts at home.
“Education-wise, how we raise our children and the awareness that, although glorified in TV and movies, gang life isn’t the choice,” Peterson said. “These aren’t people that live life happily. They’re always on guard, they’re very paranoid and they know that somebody is trying to move in on them as they’ve moved in onto somebody else.”