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Surrey mayor’s task force aims to change myth of ‘glamorous’ gang life

Members of new group meet for first time, stress importance of reaching kids early
Mayor Linda Hepner leads the first meeting of the Mayor’s Task Force on Gang Violence Prevention. (Photo: Amy Reid)

SURREY — The importance of reaching children early was a theme at the first Mayor’s Task Force on Gang Violence Prevention today (Oct. 26).

Former gangster Jordan Buna shared a story of elementary aged children “throwing around Monopoly money and whoever has the money money has the most respect, talking in that kind of talk, really attaching a lot to this concept of money and power.”

Buna now works for the province’s anti-gang unit CFSEU (Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit) and part of his role is giving presentations to elementary school students. He stressed the importance of sharing the “Shattering the Image” presentation to Grade 6 and 7 students.

“This is when they’re forming their idea, their mindset surrounding what the gang lifestyle is,” Buna told the task force.

“We see a tremendous impact,” he said of their presentations. “These kids are going to get their role models somewhere. I’d rather them to look up a guy like Mike Sanchez (who leads Surrey’s gang unit) than (gangster) Bindy Johal.”

The key, said Buna, is showing kids the “glamorous” lifestyle is just a myth.

Hepner announced her task force in August after a spate of shootings with the goal of assessing and reviewing programs in Surrey to try to find where the gaps exist in a “preventative fashion.”

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

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

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

Another member of the task force, President of the Fraser Valley Real Estate Board Gopal Sahota, told the group that shootings have hit his neighbourhood.

“It came really close to home,” Sahota said. “I was outside watering a flower bed this summer and the shooting was right in front of my house. It’s a real issue. It’s not just reading about it in the media, I’ve felt it.”

Other members of the new task force include non-profits, such as Options Community Services Society and PICS (Progressive Intercultural Community Services).

And of course, law enforcement was at the task force table.

Surrey RCMP’s Officer in Charge Assistant Commissioner Dwayne McDonald (pictured) spoke of the city’s struggles with gang violence.

But, he said violent crime is actually down in the city.

The number of violent crimes has dropped by 15 per cent so far in 2017 compared to the same period last year, according to the RCMP’s latest statistics.

See more: Surrey RCMP stats indicate crime is down, again

See also: Surrey RCMP stats for first quarter 2017 indicate 24 per cent drop in violent crime

“There seems to be pervasive narrative out there that when there’s a crime in Surrey it seems to gets far more publicity,” said McDonald. “I don’t want to throw any of the other municipal detachments under the bus but we have other areas that have a lot more gang murder than Surrey does.”

While McDonald acknowledged Surrey has seen a “fair amount” of shootings this year, he said the statistics show the numbers are actually down from last year.

“I think we have to be careful in accepting a narrative that’s out there when it’s not necessarily accurate,” he told the task force.

But, he added, Surrey’s growth and massive population are part of the gang problem.

“The challenge with that is we have a large consumer base for individuals who want to traffic drugs,” said McDonald.

He said those involved in the gang lifestyle “shouldn’t be fearing police will be chasing them or taking their car. They should be fearing that they could be killed.”

Another misconception, said McDonald, is that youth getting involved in gangs are “at risk.”

“Some people think it’s youth who are at a social disadvantage that engage in gangs but we have many youth who come from well-adjusted homes…. who enter into this lifestyle.”

McDonald spoke about the challenge of TV shows and entertainment “propping up gangsters” and “throwing law enforcement under the bus” makes the lifestyle glamorous.

“It’s incredibly challenging to combat,” he lamented.

McDonald spoke about the Surrey Gang Enforcement Team (SGET), which target known gang members and locations they frequent, with curfew checks, enhanced patrols and bail condition compliance checks.

“We’ll target them, we have zero tolerance.”

While SGET was originally developed to target children in Grades 9 and up, McDonald said research and experience has shown “we need to get to them much sooner.”

But, he noted, children aren’t generally lured into gangs at school, but instead by family.

“It’s not uncommon those on the precipice of gang violence come from the same family unit, or extended family unit.”

See also: Surrey can now report crime online

Assistant Commissioner Kevin Hackett is head of the RCMP’s provincial CFSEU anti-gang unit.

He told the task force that since 2011, the unit has seized, on average, a firearm every three days.

And CFSEU’s guilty verdicts between Jan. 1, 2014 to July 31, 2017 have resulted in 324 years of prison time.

Members of the Mayor's gang task force at city hall on Oct. 26. (Photo: Amy Reid)

Hackett also noted that since beginning its Gang Exiting and Outreach program, they’ve seen 11 gangsters exit the lifestyle.

He said success isn’t just “handcuffs, charges, drugs, guns off the street,” but “it’s when we had somebody leave the lifestyle.”

But why Surrey, one task force member asked. Why does Surrey seem to attract gang lifestyle?

Hackett had a theory, and that’s because as in any business, you go where the growth is. The drug trade is capitalizing on the market that has been created in Surrey.

“The area that has the most customers… any franchise, McDonalds or 711, they’re going to expand in a new area… from a business perspective, the criminal drug traffic perspective, they’re going to go into a new area that’s going to grow. No different than a McDonalds opening up near a Burger King, that’s when you’re going to see gang violence, over turf.

“That’s where Surrey has seen in the past, a spike in gang violence.”

The task force aims to continue to the discussion over five more meetings, ultimately drafting a report with recommendations after its review is complete.

Mayor Linda Hepner said the task force was “convened to ensure that we continue to build on our successful anti-gang programs like WRAP, YoBro/YoGirl and the Gang Exiting Program and assess what more we can do, in our city and in our region.

“By bringing together a diverse cross section of our community, I am confident that the task force will be integral in identifying programs and service gaps that will help our youth remain out of the downward spiral of gang life and its inherent dangers,” she added.

The report is expected to materialize next June.

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