“The party is over.”
That’s the message Mayor Linda Hepner had for gangsters in this city as she revealed six key recommendations of the Surrey Mayor’s Task Force on Gang Violence Prevention in the wake of deadly shootings.
Hepner said any time there’s a senseless death her “heart sinks, but her resolve strengthens.”
“None of these victims should be forgotten,” she added, referring to two South Asian teenagers found dead in South Surrey on June 4 and Paul Bennett, an OR nurse and father of two who was killed on June 23.
During the announcement at city hall Tuesday morning, Hepner said the task force’s recommendations centre on supporting and keeping more Surrey children out of gangs in the first place — and reaching them in elementary school — as well as making life “miserable” for those involved in gangs in Surrey.
Hepner said it’s “frightening” to hear the reality that children as young as 10 and 11 years old are being lured into gang life.
“It scares the daylights out of me,” she told reporters.
Also announced at the press conference was a doubling in size of Surrey RCMP’s gang enforcement unit, and a new “Surrey Centre for Community Safety” in partnership with SFU, KPU, RCMP and the school district, to be run by KPU in City Centre.
Hepner says the centre — hoped to open in the fall — will do research, and build the programs recommended by the task force.
The task force’s recommendations include the city developing a “middle years table” to refer at-risk children and families to intervention and services; strengthening prevention program co-ordination, access and evaluation such as the Surrey Wraparound Program and RCMP’s Shattering the Image program that’s reached 6,500 elementary students so far this year; as well as partnering with the federal and provincial governments to develop comprehensive neighbourhood-specific prevention programs in Surrey areas that are most vulnerable.
Hepner said the city will “double down” on prevention efforts, and expanding programs, including those that are culturally sensitive.
The 22-member team, comprised of politicians, police, business leaders, civic and provincial government staff, social workers and concerned citizens also recommends that the city and other levels of government continue to support the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU-BC) and the Surrey RCMP in informing citizens of the risks related to gang life.
Moreover, it calls for the expansion and integration of the CFSEU-BC Gang Intervention, Exiting and Outreach services and to widen the target population to support youths and adults to exit the gang lifestyle, and helping the Surrey RCMP to develop and implement an inadmissible patron program similar to the Bar and Restaurant Watch.
Once implemented, the inadmissible patron program will “remove and ban” certain patrons from restaurants, bars, and even fitness centres, noted Hepner.
“The police will be there to show them the door,” said Hepner, noting she thinks the business community will buy into the program.
Mayor Linda Hepner said she’s “extremely proud” of the task force, which met for the first time last October.
Hepner acknowledged solving gang crime is a “big task” that will take enormous resources from all levels of government, but she took a shot at the previous provincial Liberal government for not doing enough to curb the issue.
“Some of the things we have let happen over the past two decades that have exacerbated where we are today,” she elaborated.
“Not enough attention being paid to things that have exacerbated the problem, not the least of which is dirty money,” Hepner added, referring to the scathing report on money laundering in the province’s casinos released last week that said the situation was a “collective” system failure.
Hepner told reporters that city hall is also applying for money from the federal government’s gang-fighting fund of $327 million, over five years, which was announced last fall.
The city has had “ongoing” conversations with Ottawa about that money, she added.
“There is a ceiling for what is available to communities. I believe our application will surpass that ceiling and hopefully we will still get the good intention of the federal government,” said Hepner.
Why does she think this plan will be supported by higher levels of government?
“The fact that all levels of government participated in the task force tells me they’ve already bought into it,” Hepner replied. “I think it was a pretty comprehensive group that discussed what it is it, within their area of expertise, what needs to be done and where the gaps are. That’s what I was trying to accomplish - where are the gaps and how do we fill them?”
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth attended the Tuesday announcement, and said Surrey is “leading the way” when it comes to engaging with youth, and its gang prevention programs, noting the provincial government’s ongoing support of the Surrey Wraparound program.
“B.C. has a unique gang culture and needs a made-in-B.C. approach that’s supported by all levels of government and law enforcement agencies,” he noted. “It’s evident by the work of the City of Surrey and the mayor’s task force that they share the same belief and approach in gun violence prevention.”
Farnworth said Tuesday the province would spend another $1.12 million in addition funding to grow the ERASE anti-bullying program (Expect Respect and a Safe Education) in an effort to educate youth and combat gang violence across B.C.
“This is intended to provide educators and community partners specific training and resources for gang and gun prevention,” he noted. “Now, new training modules focused on gun and gang violence will be developed for school and district staff.”
JUST IN: #Surreybc mayor’s gang task force releases recommendations, including a regional anti-gang campaign, a “prevention coordination committee” to oversee programs/gap, “neighbourhood specific” programs, and support/advocate for permanent CFSEU gang exiting program funding pic.twitter.com/umz9TcYV39— Surrey Now-Leader (@SurreyNowLeader) July 3, 2018
The Task Force found young gang members appear to come from a mix of affluent, middle class and low-incomes.
Gang members are on average 23 years old, committed their first crime at age 16 and were 13 the first time they were suspended from school.
Of gang-related homicides in B.C. in 2017, there were seven in Abbotsford, six in Surrey and Richmond, five in Langley and Vancouver, four in Kelowna, three in Prince George, two in Williams Lake and one homicide each in North Vancouver, Maple Ridge, Coquitlam, Hope, Nanaimo, Chilliwack, Kamloops, Hope and Port Renfrew, which has a population of only 144.
There were 983 shots-fired incidents reported to police in 2017, with almost half of them in Vancouver.
So far there have been 25 shootings in Surrey in 2018. There were 59 shootings in Surrey during 2017, in 2016 there were 61 and in 2015 there were 88.
What makes youth vulnerable to joining a gang? The task force learned it’s trauma or domestic abuse, substance abuse, lack of parental involvement, peers or family members being involved in crime, lack of positive friendships, no positive adult role models, cultural identity issues, poverty, mental health and behaviour issues, perceived glamour, status and desire for money, lack of fear or consequences or enforcement, neighbourhood influences, and owing a gang money and being threatened with violence if they don’t repay their debt.
The task force’s report comes after several shootings in recent weeks that resulted in an anti-gang rally at Surrey City Hall in mid-June.
The recent violence prompted Surrey RCMP’s top cop to issue a letter to residents assuring that police are “working non-stop to find those responsible for these deplorable crimes and bring them to justice.”
“This is not who we are as a city,” Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald wrote in the letter, issued June 28, a statement he reiterated at the Tuesday press conference at Surrey City Hall.
McDonald urged concerned parents to call the Surrey RCMP help line, 604-599-7800, if they suspect their children are involved in gang life.
As for gangsters?
“You are not welcome in this city,” McDonald said Tuesday. “You can run, you can hide, but we will hunt you down and expose you. We will ensure you are prosecuted. We will put you in jail. Full stop. The violence this city has experienced in the last few weeks is not who we are as a city. We will not let the actions of a few individuals define us. Together, with the commitment of all of our partners, we will end this gang violence. Our commitment to this city is unwavering and your safety is our top priority.”
-With files from Tracy Holmes/Black Press