British Columbia

'If we can make a difference, then we will': VPD officer's sports programs an outlet for Surrey youth

Kal Dosanjh, who founded Kids Play, says providing recreational programs is a way to keep Surrey's youth out of crime.

Vancouver police officer Kal Dosanjh founded Kids Play in 2015; says 40,000 youth have used the program since

Vancouver police officer Kal Dosanjh says it's everyone's responsibility to keep youth safe. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

In a Surrey gymnasium packed elbow-to-elbow and with loud music blaring, Vancouver police officer Kal Dosanjh watches youth shoot hoops.

He isn't here as an officer, but as the founder of Kids Play, a local community organization dedicated to getting youth out of crime. 

"I was seeing a steady stream and proliferation of youth entering in that lifestyle of drugs and gangs and it bothered me," Dosanjh said. 

"From a law enforcement perspective, we were arresting these kids, putting them through the criminal justice system and they were being spewed out on the other end into this perpetual cycle of violence and becoming hardened criminals."

It's very simple for us to take a very simple, apathetic, complacent role within the community and just accept things they way they are. I'm not willing to do that.Kids Play founder Kal Dosanjh

Dosanjh started Kids Play in 2015. Since then he says more than 40,000 youth have been able to access Kids Play's different recreational programs, conferences and events — all for free.

A recent Surrey task force on gang violence found out that youth as young as 16-years-old were committing their first gang-related crimes. 

Earlier this year, two high schoolers were the victims of targeted killings: Jaskarn (Jason) Singh Jhutty, 16, and Jaskaran (Jesse) Singh Bhangal, 17, both residents of Surrey.

On Friday morning, a 22-year-old was shot dead in a targeted shooting a block away from Georges Vanier Elementary School.

Grade 12 Surrey student Patrick Jonas says basketball has been an important outlet for him. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Dosanjh says youth don't understand the level of violence associated with gang warfare.

"All they saw was the lucrativeness of entering that drug and gang lifestyle but when a child dies from some kind of drug or gang-related violence, we need to understand ... it's all of our responsibility." Dosanjh said.

"It's very simple for us to take a very simple, apathetic, complacent role within the community and just accept things the way they are. I'm not willing to do that. None of these volunteers are willing to do that.

"If we can make a difference, then we will."

Grade 11 student Sahara Mand said it's great the Kids Play program is free as other sports programming and clubs can be expensive. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

Grade 11 student Sahara Mand was among the 150 youth participating on Saturday after a friend sent her an invitation over Instagram. 

"I know a lot of people who don't have enough money because I know a lot of clubs — I've joined a lot of clubs — they're really expensive, especially if they travel," he said.

"It's nice to know people are helping people who are a little less fortunate or who don't have that family support."

Grade 12 student Patrick Jonas said having a safe outlet in sports has made a difference in his life. 

"It's changed my life tremendously because without basketball I probably would be doing the wrong things," Jonas said. 

"There's always a lot of pressure to go down the wrong path and do the wrong thing but I try to keep my nose out of the dirt and stay out of trouble."

Dosanjh says more than 40,000 youth have participated in Kids Play programming since 2015. (Doug Kerr/CBC)

With files from Joel Ballard