Surrey mayor says it's frightening that gang prevention programs are needed in elementary schools

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner got a stunning reality check at Monday’s Anti-Gang Task Force meeting.

Linda Hepner's Anti-Gang Task Force hears high school is too late for intervention in some cases

Police investigate a shooting in Surrey. (CBC)

Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner got a stunning reality check at Monday's Anti-Gang Task Force meeting.

She was told gang prevention programs need to target students long before they get to high school.

"We have to look at whether or not our programs — I think the majority start around Grade 7 — are too late," Hepner said.

"I think we have to get there sooner."

Harsh reality

Hepner's comments followed a sobering presentation by SFU criminologist Evan McCuish, who has done extensive research on violent young offenders who are incarcerated.

He says 90 percent of the gang-affiliated youths who are committing serious crimes drop out of school or are expelled.

"You can go to high schools and try to focus on trying to prevent gang membership or trying to respond to gang members but the most serious ones aren't there," he said.

"They are working during the day and what I mean by working is they're actively involved in gang-related activities as opposed to doing pro-social things."

McCuish says if you wait to intervene in the lives of at-risk youth because they're in elementary school, you risk losing them to criminal lifestyles.

"Trying to go into a school to solve the problem can be really ineffective if you're trying to focus on the most serious in violent youth," he said.

Task force

Hepner launched the Mayor's Anti-Gang Task Force last year to deal with gun and drug violence in the community.

The committee will meet for the final time next month.

The group will then put together a report that will include recommendations to combat gang violence.