More efforts needed to prevent young people from turning to gangs, say police

Multiple young people have died in B.C.'s Lower Mainland this past week in suspected targeted shootings, prompting police and educators to call for more action to be taken to prevent young people from joining gangs and organized crime.

Four people killed in shootings in B.C.'s Lower Mainland this week

Police were called to the 6300 block of 166 Street in Surrey, Aug. 29, after reports of a shooting. They they found Pardeep Singh, 22, fatally shot in the driver's seat of a vehicle parked in a driveway. (Cory Correia/CBC)

Multiple young people have died in B.C.'s Lower Mainland this past week in suspected targeted shootings, prompting police and educators to call for more action to be taken to prevent young people from joining gangs and organized crime.

A 22-year-old man was shot and killed in Surrey on Tuesday evening, an 18-year-old was killed in Abbotsford on Thursday and two more people suffered fatal gunshots wounds in Langley early Friday morning.  

Const. Ian MacDonald, a public information officer with the Abbotsford police department, said the streak of shootings is alarming and should be taken as a wake-up call.   

"This is a call to all citizens in all communities," MacDonald said. "We are in the middle of a Lower Mainland gang conflict and there is no one immune."  

He was adamant that communities need to take a larger role at mentoring young people, engaging them and encouraging them to make the right decisions.  

"It's not just police or educators, the community needs to become involved," he said. "This is the alarm that is being sounded, everyone needs to step it up."

MacDonald said there is nothing new about gang violence but the stakes have shifted.

"What has changed is there is a proliferation of young people who are prepared to go to violence not as a last resort but as a first resort," he said. "Now, the bravado and machismo is almost the calling card."

Community-wide effort

Alison Gutrath, the community coordinator for an Abbotsford Community Services' program that aims to stop youth turning to gangs, said the messages given to youth after these kind of incidents are crucial.

"Whenever there is significant violence in a community, a shooting in a community, it's a time to remind young people that if you become involved in all of these activities that are connected with gang activity or drug dealing or organized crime, you are putting your life at risk," Gutrath said.

She works with at-risk youth between the ages of 12 and 30 with the "In It Together" program and said connecting with young people on their level is key to preventing gang affiliation and violence.

"We want to make sure that we can talk to them, find out what their story is, and see if there is a way that we can engage them and support them in achieving different goals to try to change their involvement in the community," Gutrath said.

With students heading back to school on Tuesday, she said it's crucial for parents, police, schools and community organizations to work together to engage and support at-risk youth.

WIth files from Farrah Merali and On The Coast