I have been working in Law Enforcement Field for the past 8 years. During this time I have had the opportunity to work in a number of specialized units such as the Major Crime Section, Organized Crime Unit, Gang Enforcement Unit. At the community level, I have worked as patrol officer. I have a passion of police work and I was fortunate enough to get a number of opportunities where I was able to learn and apply my skills in order to become a better officer.
According to one notable Criminologist and gang expert, gangs in Canada are increasing 5 to 10 percent a year. Though this statistic may seem alarming, Canada is not immune from the gang culture that has plagued the entire western world, stemming from Central America all the way to North America.
Canada has always been ahead of the game. If we take appropriate action within our communities, we will be able to address the situation before it gets out of hand.
When dealing with gangs there are four different pillars that form the police strategy:
• Education and Prevention
• Suppression and Enforcement
Parents, schools, police, and the community have a responsibility to ensure that a child never reaches the point of “Suppression and Enforcement”. Everyone collectively fails when an innocent child becomes involved in a gang.
Enforcement is absolutely necessary to tackle gun-toting gang members and keep communities safe from such blatant disregard for public safety however the importance of education, prevention and intervention/disruption should not be ignored. If we can educate and prevent an innocent child from getting involved in a gang in the first place, we would encounter fewer problems during the later stages. If we miss out on the opportunities to prevent such behaviour, then we should increase our focus towards early intervention in an effort to bring that child out of gang or criminal involvement.
Anytime a gang member is killed, the reaction is preventative measure failed him. Often times, it might seem as though the parents are at fault, an inadequate upbringing and absentee parents leading an individual to choose a gang lifestyle. Yet many times, gangsters come from affluent and stable homes. Parents alone cannot be blamed for “creating” a gangster. Communities need to start looking at the root cause of such tragedies. Where are these breeding grounds for gangsters?
As opposed to playing the blame game, let us explore, analyse and educate ourselves on what it is that leads a child to believe he has no other alternative but to join a gang. What is being perpetuated by the media, is cycle where the the story of a slain gangster on the front page will lead to subsequent stories about families mourning the death of a loved one, the members of the community blaming the parents, the police blaming the community for not cooperating, and the media, family, and community all blaming the police for not preventing it.
I write these articles to share my experiences as a police officer with the members of the community, parents of troubled teens, and with those who are thinking of joining a gang. And most importantly, raise awareness against gang violence. These articles are to be three-part series to provide information on effectively tackling a situation where a child is involved in a gang.
In this issue, we will discover some of the questions that emerged in response to the previous article.
Below are some signs that will allow you to gain a better understanding of your child’s early involvement in gang culture.
If your child:
- Starts to show an increased interest in gangs, uses different slang language, etc.
- Is sneaking out of the house late night or making short trips after dusk. Since a majority of criminal activities occur during the night, it is vital for you to monitor your child’s activities after dark.
- Begins to brag about having friends who engage in gang activity to others. Similar to someone involved in a new relationship who becomes excited about their new found friend, they carry a tendency to speak about them constantly. In that way a teen that enters a gang may be excited and slips away things about gang affiliations.
- Is coming home with items of value that they don’t have the money for, such as: new clothes, electronics, new vehicles, and unexplained cash.
- Starts to get in trouble with the law for acts such as: fighting, vandalism or other forms of violence and destruction, parents must look into this. Remember that these offences could lead to more harsh and unacceptable behaviour (i.e. Shoplifting, robbery or even extreme violent acts).
- Seems to prefer a particular colour or combination of colours in clothing towards another on a daily basis. Gangs separate themselves from other gangs through the colour of their clothing, creating a distinct identity. A teenager who is stubborn and consistent about wearing the same colour could be associating with such a group.
- Shows signs of avoidance and display rebellious attitudes towards people of authority (police members, teachers and other societal role models)
- You note negative changes in their behaviour like aggression, defiance and/or withdrawing from family and friends. Anytime a child’s behaviour changes in a negative way you need to take it as a red flag that something is wrong—gang activity or not.
- Individual privacy is very important for all children during their adolescent years, however; if your child is being overprotective, starts to conceal their belongings and restricts access to their personal space, this may be a sign that your child is hiding something from you. Although this behaviour may be alarming, parents should be careful in their approach to this situation and should not destroy trust in the process.
A couple of these signs could be understood as typical teenage behaviour, but if you notice a few of these happening together then you need to take them seriously as they are strong indicators that your teen could be involved in gang or criminal activity. Take note of rumours that you may hear from neighbours, friends and family about your child being involved in a gang. When someone approaches you in an effort to share knowledge of your child’s activities outside of home, create conversations rather than countering their information in denial. Of course, rumours may just be rumours but keep in mind that any little bit of information about your child is worth investigating.
The only way to be sure is to be vigilant and have open communication at home. Always lend a listening ear to your child. At times, children will hesitate to speak openly with their parents, in which case it is best to seek a close family member or friend that your child confides in and looks up to. That channel of communication is vital for your child. It is important to note that spying on or stalking your child destroys trust. By simply being there for your child and by having that open line of communication, one can learn a lot about their values, beliefs and actions while they develop into adulthood.
During the early years, it is helpful as a parent to participate in school events and be involved in the school community. Take time to keep in touch with your child’s teachers on a regular basis. You will be surprised as to how much teachers can enlighten you about your child’s behaviour, friends and activities.
According to recent statistics, there have been 127 gang-related homicides in the lower mainland from the year 2006 to 2011. The average age is 30 and 95% of the victims are male. While the gang-murder rate and ensuing violence is declining, many of these murders took place in high-density areas putting the public at risk.
Question and Answers
How do we stop our child from choosing wrong friends, shift their behaviour, and control their choices, without causing them to rebel?
Every child enters a stage where they face an identity crisis and are in search for a sense of belonging. Make sure to educate your child about the consequences of choosing wrong friends. Sometimes, a simple bed-time talk can do wonders. I cannot stress enough on the fact that listening helps more than talking. Be a good listener for your child and you will be amazed with how much your child is willing to share.
Don’t control them, guide them. There is a very fine line between the two. Show them that you care and guide them by setting positive examples rather than forcing them to follow your perspectives. Force creates friction and ultimately creates a rebellious atmosphere.
When we are aware that our child may be involved, what are the appropriate steps to take?
First and foremost, seek help. Do not try to hide the fact that your child has become involved in wrong activities. Talk to your friends, loved ones and ask for support, however; seek those who are capable of handling the situation and advising you in such a situation. It is also important to keep things confidential and to avoid making your child feel as if you’re making them “look bad.”
Show genuine concern for their safety, future and come across that way also. Inform them about the impact of “trivial” mistakes in the early years on the later years. Provide examples of both negative and positive role models around but never compare. Comparing children to others may undermine their confidence and stir rage from thinking you lost faith in them.
Should we expect that our child knows that gangster life is a wrong way of living?
Absolutely not! Always expect your child’s mind to be a blank slate shaped by a negative peer group, social media, video games, television and other external influences. It is your duty as a parent to ensure that the correct path is engraved on that slate and if by chance any negativity scratches it, be sure to re-emphasize the positive. Explain the dangers of gang lifestyle to your child and provide examples. These examples can easily be derived from our recent communal history, especially the past two decades. It will allow you to present aspects of the gang lifestyle that are short lived and ending with brutal death or lengthy jail-time.
What should I do if I know my child or relative is involved in gang or criminal activity?
During the course of my employment, I encountered many parents who had children either involved in a gang or involved in some form of criminal activity. I can attest to the fact that the majority of those parents felt incredibly helpless and stepped into the role of a bystander while their children continued on the path of self-destruction. Not every gangster receives support at home.
Every time there is a gang-related shooting or murder of a gang member, the story is splashed on the front page of local newspapers. The readers’ comments surprise me the most. The majority of the readers imply that somehow the family of the slain gangster was responsible for his untimely demise and they are worth the entire blame.
To some extent, every aspect contributed to the untimely death of a gang member and it would be harsh to solely place the blame on parents. I came across parents who quit, gave up and created a new norm with a gangster child in the family. This implies support and encouragement which allows the child to continue their descent into the criminal underworld.
He sees it in the juvenile street gangs, who live in fear of death and who propagate fear by inflicting death to banish fear. And he sees it at its worst, as the result of violent emotions bursting into the mind and erupting from the hands.”
– Ed McBain
When is the right age to enlighten our child of this dangerous lifestyle? In what ways can we communicate our strong negative opinion without coming across as parents who are just saying “no, it’s just wrong”?
In my experience, as soon as your child starts to form his own understanding of the gang culture through exposure to media, newspapers, radio, video games, peers, and parents should start teaching their children about every aspect of this lifestyle. They should shed light on the dangers, consequences and how the benefits are only short-lived. In short, there is no specific age in which parents should provide this information. Again, it’s important to have positive communication, reasoning and encouraging questions. This will give you the opportunity to listen to your child’s current thoughts, concerns and beliefs. Be honest with your child and show faith in their understanding with what you share. Shower your child with unconditional love and acceptance which we all seek in every stage of our lives, especially our younger years.
We feel powerless compared to the other external factors that are shaping our child (such as; friends, media and their physical environment), thus we choose to stay quiet. Although this may not be the best approach, what should we do?
Every child at one point in their lives will imply that they do “know what they are doing,” and sometimes they really do. As a parent, you cannot automatically build a barrier through which your child becomes unable to express their strongly held perspectives. The best approach is to listen to your child and if you feel he/she are right in their opinion, do not hesitate to give them appropriate feedback. If you feel your child is thinking on the wrong track, reason and thoroughly explain why you believe it’s wrong. Merely stating, “because I told you it is wrong,” will not make a child speak up and leaves them confused. Children seek answers to their questions. They need reason and rationale and demand logical explanations. Deliver the messages in their language.
The last point that I would like to touch upon is the significance of having a role model in your child’s life. We all grew up idolizing someone thus; expect your child to do the same. Now it is up to you if you want your child to idolize a gangster who leads a “bling-bling” lifestyle or someone who has accomplished something more, something positive. Everyone can find a positive role model within their community. It could be anyone, a doctor, a police officer, a successful businessman, professor, a lawyer or a dedicated volunteer.
BIO – Detective Jag Khosa
Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit
For the last 8 years, he has been serving as a Police officer starting as an enforcement officer in Alberta and BC, and then transitioning into hiscurrent role as a Detective with Organized Crime Agency of BC which operates under the umbrella of Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit – BC (CFSEU-BC).
At CFSEU, he had an opportunity be part of many major case investigations relating to homicides, international drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and other activities of organized crime groups. These projects were aimed at disrupting and suppressing gangs and organized crime groups across Canada. On the enforcement side, CFSEU-BC has been doing a great job in investigating and hindering movement of these violent Organized Gangs however there has been a void in raising awareness against gang lifestyle. Now he feels this is the right time to raise public awareness and educate parents and youth with knowledge and the appropriate skills that they could use in their own journey towards happy families and safer communities.
He believes that it is imperative to spread the message that we as a community can take an active role at a preventative stage and no one has to fight this battle alone. Turning around a misguided young person starts with one-on-one intervention. Parents who become involved with their child’s life from an early age had a higher chance of keeping their young ones away from negative influence of gangs. This article is his attempt to initiate a dialogue on a subject that has not been widely discussed. The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia (CFSEU-BC) unveiled a province-wide gang prevention public service announcement media campaign called “End Gang Life.”
You can visit www.endganglife.ca, which is linked to CFSEU-BC’s website (www.cfseu.bc.ca), and be taken to a specially created webpage where they can access and download posters, videos, and radio public service announcements along with information about gang prevention research, creating resiliency in youth, Crime Stoppers, and CFSEU-BC’s award winning 2013 Community Report.