While the average age of a Surrey gang member is 23-years-old, most already have a criminal record by the time they’re 16, and in some cases, their trouble with the law begins even earlier.
These are just some of the latest facts from a report released on Tuesday, by the Mayor’s Task Force on Gang Violence Prevention.
The report was released as Surrey announced new measures intended to curb gang involvement and tackle gang violence in the city.
And in many cases, it’s these young members that are tasked with doing some of the gang’s dirtiest work.
According to findings in the report, more entrenched, older gang members may be directing orders to kill. However, they are using younger gang members to carry out these orders on their behalf, to reduce their level of risk of retaliation or criminal charges.
“Youth are having to carry out violence to prove themselves but are more likely to face criminal charges, being victims of gang violence, and money problems (owing debts to other gang members, for example),” the report said.
The report also noted that 16-year-old recruits are “particularly valuable since they have driver’s licences.”
And according to the Surrey RCMP, social media is continuing to play an increasing factor in how gangs target and recruit young kids.
“A youth’s access to the internet, social media, and an unlimited data plan, make them easy targets for gang involvement,” the report said.
While the kids may be young, they are engaging in very adult, violent behaviour.
“According to the CFSEU-BC and interviews, the extreme, sporadic violence is in large part connected to retaliatory gunfire between young people running dial-a-dope operations.”
When it comes to who is joining – or being recruited by – gangs in Surrey, the report noted that initial findings suggest that youth from a variety of backgrounds are vulnerable to gang involvement due to Surrey’s “diverse, young and growing population.”
Unlike gangs in other regions, the report added, “youth in BC gangs appear to come from a mix of affluent, middle-class, and low-income households.”
The city is still seen as an attractive place for young families to raise children and it is growing twice as fast as the rest of BC.
Although it admitted that more research is required to better understand motivations for gang involvement, the Task Force identified a variety of reasons why youth decide to join gangs.
Some of the most commonly mentioned reasons include the perceived glamour, status, and money that comes with the lifestyle.
“The transition from elementary school to secondary school is particularly sensitive as youth go from being the oldest in the school to the youngest/smallest and they may feel the need to redefine their role among this new peer group,” the report said.
It added that factors such as peer rejection and bullying can also create a strong sense of alienation in youth causing them to look to gangs to fulfill this void.
“Youth may join a gang to feel a sense of belonging and power,” the report said. “The perceived notoriety that is associated with being involved in a gang – often glamorized in popular culture (e.g. music videos) – provides youth with a sense of identity and status.”
Of course, money is still a big reason why youth see the gang lifestyle as attractive.
The report cited a study of incarcerated youth in BC between 1998 and 2012, where most youth involved in gangs reported joining because they were introduced by a friend, for the money, and to deal drugs. It also revealed that gang involvement by youth has, to a certain extent, “become normalized.”
The Task Force was launched by Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner in October of last year, as a way to “identify gaps and solutions that address gang violence in the region,” according to a statement.
It brought 23 community partners together with representatives from the provincial government, law enforcement, business community, school district, social service agencies, citizens, and local media.
Based on the research and current program review, the task force developed what it called six key actions:
The release of the report comes on the heels of an open letter to Surrey residents, written by Surrey RCMP police chief Dwayne McDonald last week, which addressed the ongoing violence in the city.
“The Surrey RCMP, along with the community, are feeling the impact of the tragic homicides and senseless gun violence that this city has experienced in the past three weeks. Rest assured, your safety is our utmost concern,” he wrote. “We are working non-stop to find those responsible for these deplorable crimes and bring them to justice.”