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Surrey Mayor’s gang task force meets for first time Thursday

‘We need to get them early and often,’ Hepner says of youth being lured into gangs
Police on scene of a shooting in Surrey earlier this year. (File photo)

SURREY — Mayor Linda Hepner’s Task Force on Gang Violence Prevention will meet for the first time Thursday (Oct. 26).

A meeting is planned for 10 a.m. at Surrey City Hall. (CLICK HERE for a report on the first meeting).

Hepner announced her task force in August after a spate of shootings.

So far this year there have been 45 shots-fired incidents in Surrey, most of them connected to the drug trade.

Hepner said her task force will assess and review the city’s programs, including police, civic and those offered by service providers.

“This is based on how we are doing things in a preventative fashion,” she told the Now-Leader in August. “It’s my intention to have representatives on that task force that are within the service agencies but also to include all levels of government and the media as well as full-on community representation. I want to get a really well-rounded approach to what is the opinion of all those in these various sectors.”

See more: Surrey mayor unveils her ideas to combat gang violence

Hepner said she wants to “see where there are gaps or where there are successes.”

The mayor said she wants to gain a “real understanding of how much time and effort is being put into these programs and services” to see if a “more concentrated or focused way” would lead to better success.

There are models in Surrey that could be utilized regionally, or even province-wide, she added.

She wants to task force to delve into programs with the highest success rates and “offer opportunities to regionalize those, since this gang issue is throughout not only the Lower Mainland but the province….. We’ve got a WRAP (anti-gang) program. Are we able to say to the province, we can offer assistance in regional programming?”

The group will also identify and approach experts to liaise with.

Ultimately, the task force will prepare a report outlining recommendations for combating gang violence.

The task force will meet a minimum of six times, prior to the final report, which is set to be completed next spring.

“We’ve all been working as hard as we can, flat out, to do the best we can for those we see who are vulnerable or at-risk in our community with respect to young people,” said Hepner. “But we’ve never sat around a table and really analyzed, what are we doing, in a broader sense. I’m hoping more brains can produce more good results because I think that it our greatest risk, that there’s always those that are vulnerable to being lured into this lifestyle and we need to get them early and often.”

See also: An interactive timeline of shootings in Surrey dating back to 2014

In addition to the mayor, councillors Tom Gill and Mike Starchuk have been appointed to the committee. Staff at city hall, including City Manager Vincent Lalonde and Public Safety Director Terry Waterhouse, will also join.

The task force will include representatives from Surrey RCMP, the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit, the Ministry of Public Safety, the Surrey school district, Progressive Intercultural Services Society, Pacific Community Resources Society and Options Community Services Society.

Media have also been invited, as well as several business groups.

Hepner said she wanted media at the table so she can hear the thoughts of the broader community.

Now-Leader publisher Dwayne Weidendorf has accepted an invitation to join.

When Hepner announced her plans for a task force, she also revealed her intention to activate a Bar Watch program in Surrey to make gangsters feel “uncomfortable.”

She said that’s still in the works.

“We’re outlining how that’s going to play out,” she told the Now-Leader on Wednesday. “We’re working with some of the business associations and getting some feedback in advance.”

Hepner said the creation of an award for civic responsibility is also underway.

The aim of the award is to “recognize young people within the school system that are already making a difference in our community” in an effort to “put a spotlight on some of the good.”

She’s not sure of the amount of the annual award, but said in the neighbourhood of $10,000.

“I want those doing outstanding work or special curriculum work on creating a city built on co-operation, respect and citizenship,” said Hepner.

“I know when I was growing up, we had what was called a civic class to help us understand our civic role in the community and I would like something like that to be demonstrated in a particular program in schools.”

That inaugural award will likely be handed out at the end of this school year, she noted.

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