Can strong anti-gang messaging, with stark images, video and personal experiences of former gang members steer Tri-City youth away from joining a criminal gang?
That's the question Grade 9 and 10 students in Coquitlam and Port Moody schools will be asked in the coming weeks even as criminal activity — and shootings — involving teens is becoming increasingly worrisome.
Beginning this week, Dr. Jennifer Wong from Simon Fraser University (SFU) will be conducting an evaluation of CFSEU-BC’s Anti-Gang Messaging Campaign “End Gang Life.”
CFSEU-BC, the province's anti-gang agency, has a mandate to target, investigate, prosecute, disrupt, and dismantle the organized crime groups and individuals that pose the highest risk to public safety due to their involvement in gang violence, according to its website.
How effective are end gang life campaigns?
Since 2013, CFSEU-BC has been working with young people across the province to impress upon them the realities of gang life with its End Gang Life campaign.
Now it's studying the campaign to see if the message is effective and which presentations work the best for influencing students in a positive way.
"I was contracted by the ministry of public safety to basically find out what they are doing, are they having impacts, are students learning anything, is it changing their attitudes towards gangs?" said Wong, a criminology professor.
During the next several months, students at seven participating schools will see different versions of the End Gang Life presentation, either in their classroom or in an assembly; some will have an ex-gang member talking about their personal experience.
Students will then be surveyed to see how they responded to the various campaigns, which ones affected them the most and how much information they retained.
"We have a couple of schools having just End Gang Life posters — to see if the posters make students think about anything or visit the website," explained Wong, who said this is the first time CFSEU-BC has studied the effectiveness of the campaign.
Over 2,000 students participating in study
School District 43 is also the only district participating in the massive study involving more than 2,000 students over a six-month period.
At the end of the study, Wong will present CFSEU-BC with her recommendations, at which point the anti-crime agency will tweak its presentations to have greater impact.
Wong acknowledged the importance of studying the effect of the campaign, especially now as young people continue to be drawn to gang life.
Although there are many reasons for getting involved, it's hoped that the campaigns will prompt young people to consider the impact of their decisions, she said.
"Gangs do recruit in the junior high school level and making them aware of risks and dangers is imperative," Wong said.
Meanwhile, parents have been informed about the survey in a letter translated into several different languages. Students are able to opt out of the survey if they don't wish to participate.
What is CFSEU-BC?
The Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit of British Columbia is the largest integrated police program in Canada, made up of members from every police department in B.C., including the RCMP, and is the third largest police ‘force’ in the province with over 400 officers.
CFSEU-BC is headquartered in Metro Vancouver, based out of the RCMP “E” Division Headquarters.