If there's a glamorous side to gang life, Surrey Gang Enforcement Team Sgt. Mike Sanchez hasn't witnessed it. Now, the team has a new anti-gang message that shows kids a better way.
Sanchez has seen lives ruined and lives end, and has been on a mission for years to show B.C.'s youngest students the damage gangs cause.
Back in 2017, the team launched the program Shattering the Image – Understanding Gangs to address the need for gang-related information.
"We started noticing more young people were showing up as persons of interest in our gang files, some as young as 13, so we wanted to peel back the layers and present the reality of gang life," says Sanchez.
In the first version of Shattering the Image, Sanchez told the story of a student he once worked with who joined a gang and was later killed in a shooting.
But after delivering the presentation to students — and a modified version to teachers — the team of five realized something more was needed.
The team's latest presentation focuses on mentorship and leadership, and includes the story of a successful relationship that Sanchez had with a young student who eventually became a police officer.
"We're now using tragedy and a success story to show kids they don't have to choose gangs," says Sanchez. "It usually has quite an impact."
Sanchez says Surrey faces a unique gang problem because many young people who join are from well-to-do backgrounds and see membership as a way to enhance their prestige.
"Now the gangs are targeting kids with social media and flashy videos," he says. "And those guys in gangs aren't that far removed from high school, so they have contacts and can target people."
In many cases, students with drivers' licences are recruited for basic dial-a-dope operations — where people buy illicit drugs over the phone and young people drive to deliver them.
"If they're caught (by police), they're forgotten about by the gangs, who'll simply try to recruit someone else," says Sanchez.
Sarah McKay is the manager of the Surrey District School Board's Safe Schools Department.
"It's hard to measure impact and prevention but I know it's being well received," says McKay. "And most importantly it sparks a conversation amongst students, staff and parents that I know goes on when the presentation is over."