A week ago today, two people were killed and 23 others injured when gunfire erupted at a block party in Toronto’s east end.

Last Friday, 12 people died and dozens were injured when a gunman opened fire at a movie premiere in Colorado.

While not all gun related deaths are a result of street gang activity, and Waterloo Region certainly does not have the same crime reputation of larger metropolitan areas like Toronto, gang activity does exist in the region and it has so for years. It may also be more prominent than you think.

“Since 2007 we’ve formed a dedicated unit through the Provincial Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy or P.A.V.I.S”, said Sgt. Andy Harrington who’s with the Gun and Gangs Unit with  Waterloo Region Police.

Since P.A.V.I.S was created the amount of street gang members has gone down from approximately 1,200 to about 350 now. With that said, Harrington notes he would not say gang activity is on a decrease, but rather that police are more focused on monitoring the situation. “I don’t believe it’s fair to say the problem is lessening just because of those numbers. It’s just that we have focused our attention more on those that posed the highest risk to public safety that are street gang members. We’ve been more focused on who we monitor.”

Harrington says at any given time they monitor anywhere between ten to 15 street gangs. He classifies a street gang as a group of at least three people that have a common symbol and a criminal purpose. Most are involved with assault, home invasions, drug trafficking and weapon related crimes.

For parents worried that their kids might be involved in a gang, Harrington says it’s important to look for the classic signs such as colours, flags and bandanas. “The other things is monitoring their social network use. That’s a massive recruiting stage for street gangs. Certainly there’s lots of information even currently in regards to local street gangs that are on Facebook, YouTube and other things.” He adds that parents need to be vigilante and involved with what their kids are doing. “What I see and what I think you would hear from the experts, is that these youths are looking for belonging. They find that among their peers that are in similar types of circumstances.”

Harrington says that through Crime Stoppers, they’re looking for information about people in possession of weapons. “That’s the biggest threat in my opinion to our community is the involvement of persons with firearms and weapons and involved in the drug trade and involved in the gangs. That’s where it creates the most dangerous mixture for a community and we see that in Toronto.”

If you have any information about anyone associated with a street gang, contact CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477).