Feds approve 100 new RCMP officers as Surrey gang war rages

Crime, Surrey, Gang war, RCMP, Surrey shootings, U.S. Preventive Services Task F

SURREY, B.C. — The federal government has pledged 100 new Mounties to the Metro Vancouver city in the middle of a spasm of gun violence and added $3.5 million to extract those vulnerable to becoming gang members in the drug-fuelled turf war.

National Revenue Minister Kerry-Lynne Findlay unveiled the double-barreled strategy aimed at restoring safety to Surrey, B.C., after months of targeted shootings that have injured many and killed one man.

The response comes as Surrey's leaders and British Columbia's provincial government wave white flags for help from the federal government.

Regional police have made only minor headway stopping the ongoing gunfire that has targeted adversaries in cars, residences and streets.

"I think you'll start to see results right away," Findlay told reporters Tuesday at the announcement at the Surrey School District head office.

She couldn't say when the new officers will be in place, noting that process is still being worked out. The commitment directly answers a formal request for more officers made by the city and B.C.'s attorney general.

Police believe a group of South Asians is battling a group of Somali descent to control the area's low-level drug trade.

Five people have been arrested so far in about 30 shootings since early March, half which police have tied to the dispute. About 40 cars have fled from crime scenes. Numerous witnesses have refused to co-operate.

The bolstered force is expected to make an imminent difference, said Surrey's Acting Mayor Barbara Steele. But she noted the city's needs continue to grow along with its population, which includes the vulnerable children of refugees.

"Those are kids who are at risk to get into the wrong groups. So we're always going to need it," she said.

"The RCMP right now is actually doing a sterling job. ... It's just that the problem is huge."

In their bid to end the violence, police took the unusual step of identifying victims — all men — in several of the shootings. That has led to 130 tips, 13 which have proven fruitful in recent weeks, Steele said.

Sometimes, younger brothers of people involved have been identified. The Surrey School District has launched a new program aimed at intercepting those believed to be at risk of enlisting in the gangs, said manager of the Safe Schools program, Rob Rai.

He's hoping the new $3.5 million will wipe out entirely a waiting list of 20 students, between ages 11 and 19, who need direct intervention, as well as ensure no one else goes without support for the next five years.

"When the kids come into the program, hopefully there's been some sort of shift in their thinking, saying, 'Wow, that was scary out there, getting shot at is not nearly as fun or as exciting as I thought it would be,'" Rai said.

Each of the students is vetted by the RCMP before entering the program, including checking for any prior criminal record, parole conditions and weapons offences. They are segregated from mainstream classes and given lessons in a separate building by specialized staff, often one-on-one, he said.

When possible, teens who have dropped out of school are sought out and guided to finish their high school diplomas, he said.

"You can imagine those kids who say, 'Hey, I got shot at, that's a badge of honour. I'm going to continue doing that?' They're not ready for schooling and not necessarily ready for our programs either."

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Tamsyn Burgmann, The Canadian Press

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