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Suspected gang member believed to be recruiting near schools: Victoria police chief

The individual, who was arrested, was allegedly recruiting students in parking lots across the street from several schools, Del Manak told the Greater Victoria School Board
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Victoria Police Chief Del Manak says he is ready to commit officers to the school-liaison officer program if it’s reinstated. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A suspected gang member believed to be recruiting in local schools was arrested by Victoria police, Chief Del Manak has told the Greater Victoria School Board. The person was allegedly recruiting students in parking lots across the street from several schools, said Manak, who first warned of gang activity around schools in May. “This is just one person of many who we have observed and we continue to work on targeting these activities.”

Seven street gangs are active in Greater Victoria and have successfully recruited members from high schools and middle schools to traffic drugs and vape pens, Manak said. Gangs are extorting both students and the parents of recruits, “and in some cases they’re using violence and threats of violence.”

Police have received reports of drug dealing to students as young as 11, he said.

Manak’s comments came as he renewed his call for the ­reinstatement of the school-liaison officer program that previously brought police to district schools, saying he is ready to commit officers to the effort.

The board voted unanimously last year to cut the liaison program, citing concern for Black and Indigenous students who might not feel comfortable with a police presence.

Officers are also restricted from making presentations at Greater Victoria School District facilities, Manak said.

Although the school-liaison program hasn’t operated in the district since 2018 due to police budget issues, Manak said it would be a key to controlling gang members who prey on students.

“What we’re seeing in our schools is unprecedented,” he said. “We need to take action immediately, and we cannot do it from the outside in.”

A group called Parents and Police Together held a rally on Monday at the school district’s office to express support for the school-liaison program and concern about what it called a “drastic rise” in gang presence around schools.

Some students don’t realize they have been associating with gang members until they run up a debt with them through drug and vape selling, “and they are well on their way to becoming entrenched,” Manak said.

He said school-liaison officers can get involved with vulnerable students early in the recruitment process and steer them away from gangs.

“Police in schools are a direct deterrent to gang involvement and other concerning behaviour.”

He said the role that school-liaison officers played has not been filled by others, such as social workers or mental-health workers.

The officers’ work “built trust in police officers among students,” said Manak, adding police-hosted public information sessions on gang recruitment have been filled to capacity.

“So far, more than 600 parents have attended,” Manak said. “It’s clear that there’s an appetite for more information on how to keep youth safe.”

He said he would like to see the board form a committee of students, parents, teachers and police to discuss the issue of police officers in schools.

“Building relationships is our best way forward, so let’s sit down and address these concerns head-on with an eye to building trust and mutual understanding.”

jbell@timescolonist.com