Vancouver police are urging young people who feel unsafe to call them after a series of “troubling and violent” incidents involving teens in the past few weeks.
Investigations have been opened into several recent swarmings, robberies and reports of humiliating and demeaning rituals involving youth, said Sgt. Steve Addison on Tuesday.
“A number of teens have already been hurt,” he told reporters.
“We’re worried this violence could escalate and although there are a number of investigations that are taking place, we do believe there are a number of incidents that have gone unreported.”
On April 24, police said a 13-year-old boy was lured from West Vancouver to Stanley Park through someone he befriended online. At the park, he was swarmed by a group of intoxicated teens, who kicked, pepper-sprayed and robbed him of his phone, according to police.
The group of teens also assaulted a 63-year-old man who was walking nearby, police added. The boy was later found, bloody, walking along the seawall.
In a news release, police also said two boys, 14 and 15, were assaulted and held at knifepoint while walking in Kerrisdale on April 16. Eventually, they were surrounded by 15 to 20 teens near East Boulevard and West 41st Avenue, and their backpacks, wallets and electronics were stolen.
Another teenage boy had a pellet gun held to his head by a youth outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on April 9, police said. Art gallery staff alerted police to the incident after reviewing their security footage, and neither the victim nor suspect have been identified.
On March 23, a 19-year-old was bear-sprayed and robbed of his backpack by six teens near East Boulevard and West 41st Avenue, said police. The suspects fled before officers were notified.
“We’re investigating right now to determine whether any of these incidents are related,” said Addison.
“It’s quite likely there are connections between people who are involved in the incidents, but I don’t think we’re talking about a single group of teens who’s involved in all of these.”
On Tuesday, B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said the government will work with police and school districts to determine whether additional support is required to prevent such attacks. The province currently funds anti-bullying programs, he added and will continue to do so.
“These incidents, when they come to light, are absolutely disgusting and disturbing, and my expectation is that every one of them is thoroughly investigated,” he said.
“Parents (who) find their kids are engaged in this kind of activity need to have a really hard talk with them about the damage that they’re doing to other people.”
Vancouver police are also urging parents to talk to their kids about bullying, and warning both parents and youth about a “concerning trend” of teenagers swarming and assaulting their peers, and filming the attacks in “humiliating and demeaning bullying rituals.”
“These rituals typically include a group of teens surrounding a lone victim, then punching, kicking, and slapping them until they fall to the ground, before forcing them to kiss their attackers’ shoes,” police said in a news release.
Since March, Vancouver police said officers have also encountered a concerning number of young people with imitation guns, bear spray, brass knuckles, and machetes near schools and in the community.
In response to the uptick, Addison said the force has expanded its targeted patrols, and established a tip line through its youth services section for information related to the Stanley Park and Kerrisdale swarmings. Anyone with information on those attacks is asked to call 604-717-0614.