B.C.'s anti-gang unit says it has arrested three high-ranking members of the 856 gang – a group that grew out of a Lower Mainland school about a decade ago and maintained a relatively low profile even as it extended east into Alberta and Ontario, and north into the territories.
Police say the 856 gang – which took its name from the phone prefix for the community of Aldergrove – has steered clear of feuds with the larger organized-crime groups in Metro Vancouver, such as the Red Scorpions, United Nations or Independent Soldiers.
Police say it has sought out smaller communities and violently taken over those drug markets.
Sergeant Lindsey Houghton, a spokesman for the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of B.C., said the arrests and the seizure of nearly $400,000 worth of drugs are major strikes against the group.
"This seizure represents a significant quantity of drugs that will now not make it onto the streets and into the hands of some of the most vulnerable people in our communities," Sgt. Houghton said on Wednesday.
"By taking quick enforcement action against a group known for their violence across British Columbia and beyond, we have made a serious impact on their ability to further victimize people and [made] our communities safer."
The men – aged 23, 25 and 47 – have not been charged, and police have not released their names. Sgt. Houghton said officers must wait for forensic tests before they can submit their report to Crown. He said police will likely recommend charges related to drug trafficking.
Sgt. Houghton said the 856 gang started in much the same way as the United Nations crime group, through friends at a school. He said it is difficult to tell how many people are in the gang, but estimated it has about a dozen core members and many more workers and associates.
RCMP in Yellowknife late last year arrested 11 people in a series of raids known as Project Goblin. Police said the drug operation they dismantled was run by the 856.
The group's name has not come up in the Lower Mainland's drug war.
In fact, Ehor Boyanowsky, a criminology professor at Simon Fraser University who has studied gangs, said he could not comment on Wednesday's announcement because he did not know much about the 856.
Robert Gordon, who also teaches criminology at SFU, said the 856 was "a pretty small fry" when it started, made up of "young and restless males."
"If this is their handiwork, they have come up in the world," he wrote in an e-mail.
Sgt. Houghton said while the 856 has had success with drug operations elsewhere, it has had a harder time exerting its influence in the Lower Mainland. He said the shootings of six people in a Surrey high-rise at the height of the gang war was also a deterrent.
"A lot of the main gangs are very well entrenched here. I don't think it would be a shock to any of us that something like the Surrey Six probably turned off a lot of people looking to make a name for themselves in the drug trade here because they don't want to get killed," he said.
The anti-gang unit launched its investigation in early July and arrested the men last week. A search at a Langley apartment building turned up large quantities of drugs. Sgt. Houghton said police seized $150,000 worth of cocaine, $100,000 of methamphetamine, $55,000 of heroin and $80,000 of a cocaine cutting agent.
He said the cutting agent was a chemical known as phenacetin, which was once a pain reliever but was found to be unhealthy for humans. He said it's generally used to deworm pigs.