Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun says that while there’s no easy fix for the spate of gang-related killings that has rocked Abbotsford this year, more engagement with at-risk teens is needed before they turn to lives of crime.
Last week, an 18-year-old man was gunned down in the fourth killing of the year that has been tied to the ongoing Lower Mainland gang conflict. The other three victims were between the ages of 18 and 23. August also saw the non-fatal shooting of a 17-year-old youth.
Braun speaks weekly with police chief Bob Rich and said the issue has been front and centre of their discussions in recent months. He said he is confident that the city’s police force is doing the best it can both in solving and preventing gang violence and in connecting with at-risk youth. But he said a society-wide effort needs to be made to connect with young men at risk of entering gang life both before and after they go down that road.
“Somehow we have to get to our younger [students], even down to Grade 4,” he said.
And while Braun is mostly satisfied with the funding made available specifically to address gang issues, he suggested more could be done in schools to reach such youth.
Braun said extra-curricular activities sports and music programs could be one avenue.
“To me, it looks like we’ve cut back on those things,” he said. “I don’t want to chuck teachers under the bus either, because they can only do so much with what they have. Yes, this is going to take some money if we’re going to create more activities.
“We need to reach those kids and help them not get sucked into that lifestyle,” he said. “But this isn’t easy work. What we are experiencing today, in my view, has tentacles that go back many years. It took us a decade or two to get here and this isn’t going to turn around overnight, I don’t think.”
Braun said he’s concerned about the issues, but also said it’s important to keep the situation in context, noting that in spite of the high-profile shootings, Abbotsford’s crime rate is actually lower than most of its neighbours.
And he said the people responsible for the current wave of violence comprise a tiny fraction of the youth in the city.
“Relatively speaking, this is a few handfuls of people who are engaged in this,” he said. “There are thousands of young people in this community who are great kids and they are going to make some great citizens.”
The News was unable to reach Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth for comment on the issue.
But BC Liberal public safety critic Mike Morris said addressing gang violence should be at the top of the new NDP government’s agenda.
He said resources for police haven’t kept up with the increasing demands on officers’ time that largely stem from rising legal and paperwork requirements.
And he said various groups need to work together more to reach youth at risk.
“There needs to be a lot more collaboration; there need to be some synergies developed.”