If you want proof that Surrey gangsters are getting younger and younger, you only have to look at their marksmanship, says one drug dealer.
“These kids are trigger happy. They shoot over anything, but they don’t know how to shoot,” says Robbie, who has lived in both Abbotsford and Surrey.
“They shoot like they’re in Compton or something, like sideways. You gotta shoot straight!”
Robbie is just 18, but these days that makes him a veteran in Surrey’s drug scene.
There have been 47shootings already this year in Surrey, compared to 47 shootings for all of 2015, which was considered a watershed year for gun violence.
READ MORE: Surrey RCMP track progress on drug trade and violence
Of those 47, just 16 have involved someone being hit, say Surrey RCMP. But what’s most concerning to people who have studied the Surrey drug trade for years are the ages of the people involved.
It was once rare to see anyone younger than 17 deeply involved in Surrey’s gang culture. Now, it can start in middle school.
“Men as young as 12 and 13 are now involved in this kind of criminal activity,” says RCMP Assistant Commissioner Bill Fordy.
Fordy, who has been Surrey’s top cop since 2012, says technology has been one of the biggest drivers of young teenagers getting involved in the drug trade, creating new complications for police investigations.
“Fifteen years ago, before cellphones, the way drugs were trafficked was very different. It used to be that somebody would go to a house and do the exchange. Now with social media and with the other vehicles used to assist in trafficking, we now have young men driving around doing quick hand-to-hand meets, or going into public places where it’s pre-arranged,” he says.
“It makes it very easy for them to engage in that criminal transaction.”
Technology plays a part. But so are the traditional teenage pressures of money and status – and how to quickly acquire them.
“It’s through the school system. Simple as that,” says Kash Heed, British Columbia’s former solicitor general.
“A friend of a friend introduces them. They hang around the schools. They associate with the kids before and after school and they encourage the kids to get involved as an easy way to make money and kids are not realizing the consequences of their behaviour.”
For many teenagers, the entry point is on the front lines of the dial-a-dope operation that propels many of Surrey’s shootings.
“You gotta couple of drug lines that are being disputed right now. One comes out of south Vancouver. One comes out of the Surrey, North Delta area. They’re using these young kids to traffic in the drugs, they’re fighting with one another, and they’re providing firearms to these kids to settle some disputes,” says Heed.
Mani Amar, a Surrey resident and filmmaker who has researched the drug trade for years, says the aspiring gangster gets money and respect, while established dealers avoid risk.
“Why would a 22-year-old want to do the dial-a-dope street operations and put a target on his back if he has 13, 14-year-old cousins that are willing to make a couple of thousand dollars a week? Why would he take that risk?” he asks.
“I’ve heard of kids making anywhere from five to ten thousand dollars a week if they got a good dial-a-dope operation or Snapchat operation going on.”
Add it up, and it’s an enticing proposition for many young teenagers in Surrey. And it makes Amar concerned about what these teenagers will do when they get older.
“There’s only three ways kids end up going once they get involved. They’re going to end up in jail, they’re going to end up shot and killed, or they’re gonna be permanently disabled and have a bullseye [on] their back for the rest of their lives. There’s really no way out,” he says.
It makes Robbie, all of 18, sound like he’s 65.
“They think they’re living in a movie or something,” he says.
“This newer generation is just too crazy.”
Part 2: When it comes to Surrey gang life, family looms large
– With files from Sonia Deol