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Law enforcement collaborate to strengthen gang prevention

Tuesday February 11, 2014

Collaboration and community partnership is a key bridge to reduce gang violence and strengthen relations, according to several police officers.

Four law enforcers from different police services came together on Jan. 15 to offer their expertise on street gangs at the Fort William First Nation Native (FWFN) Youth Gang Conference.

Anishinabek Police Service (APS) acting Sgt. Rob Pelletier, Thunder Bay Police Service Constable John Walmark, RCMP Officer Marc Bohemier and Regina Police Services Officer Sheldon Steinke work together on Aboriginal committees to reduce crime and improve police-community relations.

“Based on our partnership with other police services, community members, organizations and Justice Peace Gene Bannon of Fort William First Nation; we try to meet our community partners needs when they need experts for workshops,” Walmark said.

The conference was the second one of it’s kind to bring awareness about drugs, gangs and violence.

Officers felt this event was more of a success because families affected by gang violence were on hand to share their powerful, tragic human stories.

“I think people really get grabbed by first person experience,” Walmark said. “Realities close to their own hits them. Sometimes experts can turn off parents and youth.”

In 2010, the Thunder Bay Police Service and Fort William First Nation APS brought Officer Steinke from Regina to educate the communities about the city’s anti-gang program RAGS (Regina Anti-Gang Services) in 2010.

“I was one of the officers assisting and working with gang members who were exiting from the program,” Steinke said.

The RAG program is no longer in existence but many people benefited from it, Steinke said. He sees the value of current or ex-gang members and families affected by gang violence share their stories.

“Ex-gang members say it is not a good life. They would explain how gangs worked, how they got into them and the time they spent in jail. It’s an eye opener,” he said.

Gang members are recruited into gang families with the persuasion of alcohol, drugs, money, parties, sex and security of family. Officers say the cost is losing your life, family or freedom to jail.

Although there are no confirmed gangs in Fort William First Nation, officers believe there is underground gang activity in the area keeping a low profile to avoid identifying themselves.

“Aboriginal gangs partnered with organized crime realized wearing their colours or flying their bandana’s created to much heat so they started going underground,” Walmark said.

Drug and gang units along with several different law enforcement agencies have been working together to identify gang issues and problems on the rise.

“We have had all kinds of incidents for beatings to get in and out, suspected debt collections and movement of players across Canada, but it’s a lot more unnoticeable in the Thunder Bay area,” said Walmark.

Aboriginal gangs mostly got their birth in western Canada penitentiary and provincial jails. Street gangs formed and grew due to high levels of incarceration and prison systems breaking up gangs. Northern Ontario gangs are a result of this movement.

“Prison gangs were broken up to reduce sizes and moved throughout the prison system,” Steinke said. “Gangs ended up spread out into new territory like Ontario and British Columbia (and) as a result gangs grew.”

Prison gangs can return to their street gang upon prison release. They work the system to their advantage by recruiting youth as young as 10 to 12 years old because youth can’t be persecuted. Youth are often bullied into gangs or influenced by the lifestyle.

“They think it’s the life and you don’t see it verdantly on the outside because it’s the older guys moved up who are just the puppeteers running the younger guys on the street and what not,” said Steinke.

Influxes of various ethnic gangs are moving throughout Canada because of Alberta, B.C. and northern Ontario wealth. Wealth allows gangs to be more transient and move gang members across Canada.

“We now have more gangs because there is money to made, drugs to be sold and women to put on the streets,” said Steinke.

Law enforcement said remote Aboriginal communities are often a target for gang activities due to underfunded education, health and resource services. Aboriginal gangs are using their family connections in Aboriginal communities across Canada to conduct gang activities.

“Gangs with national family connections have access to those communities through family and communities with less services, oppression and depression are a perfect storm to attract gangs,” said Walmark.

In the opinion of the officers, the ingredients for reducing gang crime in Aboriginal communities is to increase Aboriginal economics, hope, resources, support and teachings and build stronger families, individuals, and leaders to build stronger communities and teach ownership and self-resilience.

“It’s going to be the community that changes,” Walmark said. “It’s not going to be a single effort or somebody coming in changing things. It’s going to be everyone changing that together.”

The officers feel society is accountable for youth falling into the cycle of violence and system of gangs, when youth don’t have a healthy start in life and access to culturally, economically, environmentally and spiritually enriched lives.

“Good community leadership, mentorship and parenting and involvement in a child’s life can build confidence and trust in the adults in their lives and themselves to make better decisions,” Pelletier said.

“Mistakes are going to happen,” Steinke said. “That’s life. The more youth can hear good things can happen then good decisions can be made.”

Youth who have access to education, healthcare, programs and resources start off with a healthy foundation in life. Without these same advantages youth often fall prey to gangs, drugs, drinking and violence.

“It is a complicated world with complex issues that have to be dealt with by each individual,” said RCMP Officer Bohemier.


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