Pubdate: Thu, 14 Feb 2008
Source: Uptown Magazine (CN MB)
Copyright: 2008 Uptown Magazine
Author: Marlo Campbell


Gang Expert Michael Chettleburgh On Winnipeg's Growing Gang

A Canadian expert on street gangs says Winnipeg is a hotbed of
activity - and he predicts the problem is going to get worse before it
gets better.

Michael Chettleburgh has consulted with Canadian law enforcement
agencies since the 1990s. He also researched and wrote the 2002
Canadian Police Survey on Youth Gangs (the first national study of its
kind) and its 2005 follow-up.

In his recently released book, Young Thugs, Chettleburgh breaks down
the current situation in Canada. He estimates that between 14,000 and
15,000 men under the age of 28 are now gang-involved, with an equal
number of girls and women affiliated through boyfriends and spouses.

Almost 100 Winnipeggers came out to hear him speak at a public forum
Feb. 6.

Higher per capita than Toronto

Street gangs and their activities - drug sales, prostitution and fraud
- - are not just a big-city issue, he says. In fact, with as many as
3,000 street gang members currently active in Winnipeg, our city has a
higher per capita density than Toronto.

"The biggest problems in the country right now are Regina, Saskatoon
and Winnipeg," Chettleburgh says.

Not coincidentally, these cities have large urban Aboriginal
populations (Winnipeg's is the largest in the country). Aboriginals
and other visible minorities make up about 82 per cent of Canada's
street gangs, and Chettleburgh pulls no punches when it comes to the
continued marginalization of First Nations people, referring to the
deplorable living conditions endured by many Aboriginals in urban
centres as "Canada's dirty little secret."

Socio-economic factors drive street gang formation, he says. Poverty,
lack of affordable housing, unsafe communities, addictions, the
financial lure of the drug trade, family breakdown and limited
recreational opportunities all play a part in a young person's
decision to join a gang.

Gang membership will double

"For them, street gangs are a family - they're protection, they're
affiliation; they give them something that they're not getting
elsewhere in their lives," he says.

As the number of street gang members is now projected to double in the
next 10 years, Canada is at a crossroads, Chettleburgh says.

To successfully contain the problem, he advocates a 16-point plan that
combines suppression and prevention.

"Police suppression is important, as long as it's being targeted
towards taking out the 20 per cent or so of gang members - of any gang
- - that are responsible for most of the violence and the drama that you
see on the street," he says.

"At the same time, you've got to be dealing with the root causes of
why kids are joining gangs in the first place. You can't do one
without the other."

Interestingly, Chettleburgh also supports the legalization of
marijuana, arguing that it would reduce some of the incentive for
young men to join gangs - what he refers to as "starving gangs of
their oxygen."

Communities must respond

Ultimately, parents and communities need to teach young people how to
resist peer pressure and resolve conflict, and as a first step,
Chettleburgh recommends heavy investment in this area.

"I would focus on kids age six to 12, and offer them intensive life
skills development programs backed by ample sports recreation programs
that are run by pro-social, trained youth workers," he says.

"As important as police are, they're not going to solve the problem
entirely... The community has created the problem; the community has
to fix this problem, too."
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