Guns, knives, crack shacks, crack lines, hookers and turf.
Murders, Attempt Murders, Shootings, Assaults, Kidnappings, Illicit Drug Trafficking, Break and Enters, Thefts.
Incarceration, Life Sentences, Morgues and Graveyards….
It all sounds terrible doesn’t it?
Well, many of these things are reality for dozens of kids in Winnipeg who end up buying in to the false promise of gang life.
That reality is something a small group of dedicated people from GAIN (Gang Action Interagency Network) desperately wants to change. The GAIN team has spent some time now putting together a compelling argument in their struggle to establish a gang exit program in the City of Winnipeg.
The GAIN team presented that argument yesterday for concerned citizens and members of the media at the West End Cultural Center at 586 Ellice Ave.
G.A.I.N. researcher Matt Fast shared the results of his work filling in the blanks on questions like;
- Why do people join gangs?
- What needs to be done to tackle the gang issue in Winnipeg?
- What resources are needed to leave a gang?
These are important questions.
Fast and company have done the heavily lifting required to find the answers.
What they haven’t been able to do is find anyone who really cares!
Cares enough, that is, to support them and the program they so desperately want to establish.
The need is indisputable.
The Demonstrated Need for a Gang Exit Program
The Province of Manitoba remains the murder capital of Canada by a significant margin and has retained the title for seven (7) consecutive years. The City of Winnipeg has held the title of metropolitan murder capital of Canada for several years and only recently relinquished the title to the City of Regina.
In 2013, forty (40) youths were charged with Homicide in Canada, thirteen (13) of those youths resided in the Province of Manitoba. Youths in Manitoba are charged with Homicide at a rate of 13.09 per 100,000 while the national average is only 1.67 per 100,000.
Youth participation in criminal street gangs and homicide are inextricably connected. No one can dispute the fact Winnipeg has one of the worst street gang problems in the Country.
What we don’t seem to have is the political will, determination or leadership to change that reality!
That’s because our political leaders have a hard time connecting the dots on the global impacts of crime associated with young people who join criminal street gangs.
Let’s keep it simple and just talk about homicide.
I’ve often said that kids who join street gangs in Winnipeg end up in one of two places, the Penitentiary or the Morgue. I’m not just saying that because it sounds cool, that’s the reality experienced by many young people I came to know during my Police career.
So let’s do the math.
If an eighteen (18) year old gang banger is convicted of 1st degree murder he will automatically be sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for twenty-five (25) years. The latest numbers from Corrections tell us the annual cost of housing a prisoner in a maximum security prison, where many convicted gang killers are housed, is $151,484.
$151,484.00. x 25 = $3,787,100.00.
Now imagine what that number might look like if we convict the thirteen (13) youths who were charged with homicide in Manitoba in 2013.
(These figures don’t include the astronomical costs of the Police investigations, prosecutions, legal aid fee’s, medical costs associated to crimes of violence or damages incurred by victims.)
I’m sure you get my point.
Investigation, Prosecution & Incarceration vs Prevention – the choice is clear.
If we can establish a gang exit program to get kids out of gangs and work towards preventing kids from joining street gangs in the first place the savings are obvious. Should there be any need to provide further justification.
No, but I will anyway.
If we can prevent “gang related” youth homicide, which the majority of it is, we can also save the intangibles. Intangibles like saving lives and reducing the human suffering and despair associated with these brutal cases.
Other impacts are less obvious, like;
- reducing violent crime
- improving safety in downtown and residential areas
- keeping kids in school
- keeping kids out of emergency rooms
- reducing Court backlogs
- improving the overall health of our community
The possibilities are almost limitless.
But does anyone care?
I became aware of the desperate need for a gang exit program while supervising a gang related murder investigation in the north end of the City during the summer of 2010.
The killers turned out to be extremely dangerous hardcore gangsters who surrounded themselves with several teenaged “child soldiers.” These adult gangsters controlled these kids with extreme violence (choked, punched, kicked and burned them with cigarettes), used them as doormen at crack shacks and encouraged them to participate in drug use (cocaine) and high risk sexual behaviours (intercourse with sex trade workers).
The boys ended up being key witnesses in the case and would be required to provide evidence at the subsequent murder trial.
The resolution of a murder case, closure to a fractured family, cold-blooded killers being taken off the street and the health and wellbeing of several young gang involved boys.
How do you keep these kids from getting sucked back into the gang life and control of the older gangsters? These boys were like walking skeletons and were all in need of interventions. They were malnourished, addicted to crack cocaine and emotionally traumatized from the horrific abuse they suffered.
No number to call, no agency to take ownership, no multi-disciplined approach, no gang exit program, no nothing.
As tragic as it is, I was forced to use the one and only tool at my disposal to keep these kids safe, the Manitoba Youth Center. That’s right, jail. That was the reward these young men received for being cooperative witnesses with a Police investigation. That was the only way we could keep them safe and beyond the grasp of the manipulative gangsters who were determined to keep exploiting them.
That was wrong.
These kids should have had better options.
Options like addiction treatment, trauma counselling, peer support and mentorship and access to programs.
That happens to be the GAIN vision.
“Given the need fulfilled by the gang, interventions must meet or exceed the options or incentives offered by the gang while eliminating the negative consequences attached to gang membership.” (MacRae-Krisa) (2011)
It’s time for our elected officials to recognize the need for a gang exit program and take the necessary steps to make it happen.
It all comes down to dollar bills and priorities.
I have to ask, can we really afford to keep ignoring the problem?
After attending the GAIN event I took a stroll in the neighbourhood near the West End Cultural Center.
As you may recall, Nigel Dixon was murdered in a brutal gang related attack on April 2, 2013 in the immediate area. A seventeen (17) year old gang affiliated youth was charged with 2nd degree murder in connection with the killing.
My purpose for the stroll was to take the temperature of the neighbourhood by searching for any gang related graffiti or tags.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Evidence suggests street gangs have maintained a significant presence in the neighbourhood.
Check out The Police Insider’s FB page to view gang graffiti and photos from the GAIN news conference.