As concern mounts over the growing epidemic of gang violence in Surrey, police are taking their message to an ever younger audience.
Laurie Nocier teaches at Surrey’s Bear Creek Elementary, and has 26 years of experience in the classroom.
Speaking with John Daly on CKNW’s Back on the Beat, she said the recent uptick in gang violence prompted her school to reach out to the Surrey Safe Schools program for help.
“Things have kind of reached a little bit… not really a crisis point, but a point where one of our former students was killed in gang activity,” she said.
“It’s very hard when you watch a kid grow up and you’ve known them since kindergarten, and seeing them making choices that can lead to danger.”
In early June, 17-year-old Jaskaran “Jesse” Bhangal and 16-year-old Jaskarn “Jason” Jhutty were fatally shot. Neither of them were known to police.
The Safe Schools program has been active in Surrey for two decades, and includes initiatives such as drug and police liaisons.
Safe Schools sent Jordan Buna, a former gangster who has left the life behind and now speaks about its dangers — along with members of the Surrey gang unit and a special VPD unit called Her Time that talks specifically to young girls about gang recruitment.
The team, together, spoke to students in Grades 5 to 7 last week, and Nocier said they were “spellbound.”
“If you can imagine how hard it is to get a group of fifth- or seventh-graders to sit still for three hours… but the information was so relevant and it was so engaging. And they really listened to our kids,” she said.
Nocier said programs in the school dealing with personal safety and smart decision making start as early as Grade 4, and she said Buna and officers mentioned them in their presentations.
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But she said they also — while keeping things appropriate for a young audience — spoke frankly about the realities and dangers of gang recruitment, and the way youth are targeted for things like dial-a-dope drug delivery.
“We’ve found that gang people are targeting and grooming younger and younger children,” she said.
“It’s something that I’ve learned a lot in the last couple of weeks about how these organizations work and how they try to approach children, and it was eye-opening to me as a classroom teacher.
“The police officers were like, ‘Take a moment and take a beat and think where it could lead you. And that’s the best way to keep yourself safe.”
Nocier said there are plans to expand education programs to parents in the fall, who she said form a crucial link in keeping kids safe.
“Parents are the ones who see them, and know them. They know their children better than anyone,” she said.
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“So the RCMP and the Safe Schools have programs to inform parents, ‘Here’s what you need to look out for, here are the signs you need to be careful of. These are people you can reach out to if you have questions’.”
Nocier said she was impressed by the presentations and the commitment of the school district to deal with the issue head-on among young students.
She added that keeping communication open with kids in their final years of elementary school is key, as it is a time when they are on the verge of their teenage years and becoming independent.