This has been the most exciting, challenging and rewarding role in my career thus far. I am responsible for providing a combination of community engagement and prevention through gang outreach and proactive intervention across BC. Using highly developed skills in problem solving and mediation, the Gang Intervention Team works to better understand the key determinates of gang violence and works with both internal CFSEU-BC stakeholders and external law enforcement and community partners to develop and implement community mobilization, prevention, disruption, and focussed deterrence strategies. If a shooting has occurred, we have the capacity to engage with operational and investigative units, both within the CFSEU-BC and the respective agency, to participate in community engagement, focussed deterrence, and possibly investigative strategies.
What challenges do you usually face as a Gang Intervention Officer?
CFSEU-BC’s gang intervention initiative is first-of-its-kind in Canada. In its infancy stage we were faced with challenges such as a gap between the community and the police. Parents were generally afraid of a stigma, which prevented them from contacting us to seek help for their gang-involved kids. However, with our continued community-based initiatives and enhanced outreach by the Gang Intervention Unit, this gap started to narrow down. The “code of silence” is starting to diminish as more and more parents are contacting us for help.
Despite various measures taken by the city, the gang scene still remains existent. Why?
Measuring prevention and awareness-related results have always been tricky. We are doing everything we can to curb the ongoing gang violence on our streets while focusing on long term solutions to this problem. Under CFSEU-BC’s End Gang Life campaign, we continue to educate our youth and parents on dangers of gang lifestyle. To break the cycle of violence, we must focus on our next generation. On the enforcement side, CFSEU-BC’s mandate is to target, investigate, prosecute, and disrupt and dismantle the organized crime groups and individuals that pose the highest risk to public safety due to gang violence. Keeping in line with our mandate, we have had many significant successful investigations resulting in seizure of illegal firearms and arrests of high profile gangsters.
What tempts youngsters to join gangs?
Our research shows that although money, greed, power, peer pressure and pseudo self-respect pushes youth into gang life; these are not the only reasons why kids choose to lead a high risk lifestyle. Lately, we have been digging even deeper and seeing trauma being a leading cause of youth leaning towards gang life. Youth traumatized by childhood abuse or witnessing negative environment at home tend to join gangs to seek comfort elsewhere. In my experience dealing with youth, I found they could not see or foresee any danger associated with selling drugs. In their minds, being gang members, they held the power and maintained autonomy by carrying cell phones, having their own mode of transportation and by making a quick buck. They often appear ignorant and oblivious to the fact that in business of gangs and drug trade the individuals involved are often betrayed and setup by their own friends or eliminated by rival gang members in execution-style shootings.
You also speak about girls getting involved in gangs. Do share your inputs on the topic.
Girls participation in gangs is no longer a myth. We are seeing more and more girls playing an active role in street level drug distribution networks along with cross border smuggling. Majority of these girls paid the price of being involved in a relationship with a gangster. The most shocking part is that these young girls agree to immense risk for minimum or no compensation. Money is also a factor that drives girls into criminal activity whereas some simply participate to perform favours to their drug-dealer boyfriends. This is a socially concerning fact that allows women to face sexual exploitation and other harmful assaults.
Is there a solution to these problems?
Prevention, education and awareness is the key to prevent our next generation from getting into gangs. Enforcement also plays a huge role in holding those accountable who pose the highest risk to public safety. However, if we could educate the parents and the young kids about dangers of gang lifestyle that would go long ways in preventing kids from making poor choices.
What measurements have been taken by the CFSEU-BC to fight these issues?
CFSEU-BC was formed to tackle organized crime and those gangsters who pose the highest risk to public safety. Along with leading major successful investigations against high level gangs, CFSEU-BC also embarked on two brand new Gang Prevention and exiting initiatives. Under CFSEU-BC’s umbrella, End Gang Life campaign was also launched which is a comprehensive education, prevention, and awareness initiative. In partnership with Provincial Government of BC, CFSEU-BC launched a first-of-its-kind Gang Exiting program to support those who are engaged in this lifestyle and want out. Various intake tools are used to identify risk factors and the staff works with the client to engage them in positive programs with the aim to reduce criminogenic risk factors. Through this program, supports such as clinical counselling, employment training, mental health, addictions and education are provided at no cost to the client.
How can parents, family members and the community help a child stay away from this dangerous, short-lived lifestyle?
I strongly suggest parents keep informed of their children’s daily activities, whether it is school or work. We have come across many cases where drug runners tell their parents that they are helping with their friend’s family business or that they work as a security guard to explain their absence during the day or most of the night. One indicator that your child may be generating income from an illegal source is unexplained cash. If you witness your child carrying unexplained cash or find bundles of money in your home, it is in your best interest to ask where it came from. Parents also need to trust their children and provide space as necessary during their teenage years so they grow into confident and independent adults. The ideal way to become aware of various aspects of your child’s life is by letting them come to you, showing them support, and engaging in positive two-way communication. It is important to make your child feel safe and important. The community should play a positive role in every kid’s life. Community support groups should offer services that involve youth in positive and healthy activities in their spare time.
What are the misconceptions attached to this negative lifestyle?
The common misconception is that gang life offers limitless wealth, fancy cars, and beautiful women. However, due to these assumptions, many young people head down this path without seeing the warning signs that this lifestyle ultimately will have them end up in jail or cost them their life. The glamourized lifestyle that is portrayed on television, films and the news, is far from the truth. You will never see on screen the fear and paranoia that plagues gangsters who have gotten themselves in too deep and know that death is inevitable. The latest trend that we have seen is that most kids feel that selling or transporting a “little bit” of drugs isn’t a big deal and by doing so one can make lots of money. However, the reality is completely opposite. A street-level drug dealer, or “runner,” constantly runs the risk of getting arrested and charged with possession or trafficking of a controlled substance. If the runner were to lose his product, he would be indebted to the boss for the cost of that supply. It is quite common for workers to be “jacked,” or robbed, by members of their own crew and their boss so they end up owing money.
What should parents/family members do if they see a child showing signs of gang-involvement?
First and foremost, the parent or a family member should seek help immediately rather than waiting until it is too late. Lot of parents feel that admitting their kid’s involvement in gangs would bring their family name in disrepute. We need to reach out to those who are in a position to offer help.
Any parent facing such issues can reach our team at 604-897-6023 or endganglife.ca