Fam­i­lies, po­lice fight to keep kids on track

Pro­gram tar­gets youth at risk of be­ing re­cruited into gangs to end sup­ply of ‘can­non fod­der’


The deadly war erupt­ing on city streets is so vi­cious, it steered a for­mer gang mem­ber to po­lice seek­ing help res­cu­ing his own son from its clutches.

“When you’re scared for your kids, you’d do any­thing,” said David, who spent nearly two decades en­snarled in an out­law mo­tor­cy­cle club and doesn’t want his name printed.

“What I see on the street now, I don’t want my son any­where near th­ese guys. There is no loy­alty or broth­er­hood,” said David, once a high-rank­ing biker in an un­der­world gov­erned by much dif­fer­ent street rules.

The gang war may have claimed its latest vic­tim af­ter a fa­tal shoot­ing Satur­day night in Chi­na­town.

Through a phone call from the school board just over a year ago, David learned the worst about his trou­ble­some boy — 15-year-old Dean was run­ning with a bad crowd on the pe­riph­ery of a dan­ger­ous gang­ster net­work.

The cold hard truth struck the sin­gle fa­ther with fear. He was des­per­ate for an­swers.

The for­mer out­law called the Cal­gary Po­lice Ser­vice gang help line.

“I fig­ured there was no one bet­ter to talk to than the guys who know this stuff,” said David. “I called and said, ‘I want to know if he's in a gang, and who they are, and where they hang out.’ ”

David was plan­ning on con­fronting the gang­sters to de­liver a mes­sage him­self.

In­stead, the next day he got a knock on his front door that he says changed his fam­ily’s life.

Const. Al­lan Devolin rived with a plan.

“He re­as­sured me: ‘This is how deep your kid is in.’ It was at the point where it could have gone ei­ther way, but it wasn’t too late,” said David.

It is an un­likely friend­ship — the biker, the cop and the trou­bled kid.

But over time, Devolin has be­come a bridge con­nect­ing the gen­er­a­tion gap be­tween fa­ther and son.

“He gave me back my son. I owe him ev­ery­thing,” said David.


Devolin is one of two po­lice of­fi­cers and two so­cial work­ers be­hind the Youth At Risk De­vel­op­ment (YARD) pro­gram tar­get­ing kids 10 to 17 who are show­ing symp­toms of fall­ing into the street gang world. YARD works with fam­i­lies to in­ter­vene and help steer teens out of the crim­i­nal realm.

Gang mem­bers in Cal­gary have dou­bled in the past five years, po­lice say. The city has an es­ti­mated 400 gang mem­bers in­volved in up to 12 ac­tive gangs be­ing watched. The av­er­age age is 20.

By the time David re­al­ized how deeply Dean was en­trenched in the wrong crowd, the wedge be­tween fa­ther and son seemed in­sur­mount­able.

“To him, I’m a chronic wind­bag, ac­tu­ally. I’m carp­ing on him on the same thing over and over. When you’re talk­ing, they’re not hear­ing. It’s not their fault, it’s how they’re pro­grammed,” said David.

“Al took his blin­ders off. What they talk about stays be­tween him and Al. It’s been ben­e­fi­cial for him to have a sound­ing board.”

It took some time, but Dean started lis­ten­ing to Devolin. And then he started talk­ing.

“Al got me my first job. He showed me I could get one. He knows I’m not stupid,” said Dean, who is now 16. “It’s good to know he’s on my side.”

Dean said he sees life a lit­tle

than he did

last dif­fer­ently year.

“The more choices you make, the more op­tions you have.

“It helps me look at it in a big­ger pic­ture, not so much one track.”

David said he sees the re­sults al­ready.

“I’ve seen a big dif­fer­ence in him. A more grown-up out­look. An un­der­stand­ing, the whole ma­tu­rity thing,” he said. “His eyes have been opened.”

As a par­ent, David said the re­al­ity of Cal­gary’s gang prob­lem is fright­en­ing, es­pe­cially for teens who are all too ea­ger to make pow­er­ful friends.

“I know ex­actly what it would lead to. You don't want their life ex­pended by some dirt bag in his 40s that no one knows. They use their loy­alty to line their pock­ets. They’re can­non fod­der.”

The lure to join the crim­i­nal crowd can be hard to re­sist, Devolin says.

“It’s a lot more neb­u­lous than you would think. There’s no man­ual on re­cruit­ment. Th­ese young guys, a lot of th­ese kids are marginal­ized in the com­mu­nity. Pre­dom­i­nantly that’s what we see,” he said. “Be­fore they know it, they’re in a sit­u­a­tion where they’re in­volved in vi­o­lence or drugs or both.

“They’ll sell it a bunch of dif­fer­ent ways. One of it is fam­ily. If they don’t have pos­i­tive re­la­tion­ships at home, then they will seek them out in the com­mu­nity. The gangs will wel­come them with open arms. One of the pack­ages the gangs will sell is that they have got their back, they are fam­ily and they pro­vide that sense of be­long­ing that all kids need and want. If they’re not be­ing pro­vided that in the com­mu­nity, they’ll seek it out in less pos­i­tive and anti-so­cial ways, and that’s a gang.”

YARD be­gan as a gang strat­egy pilot pro­gram two years ago. The fed­eral fund­ing is now nearly $1.2 mil­lion (with in kind fund­ing from the city and po­lice) from the Na­tional Crime Pre­ven­tion Cen­tre and runs un­til 2011.

Dean, who is on pro­ba­tion for petty crimes that were rapidly adding up, isn't out of the woods, yet. He still runs with the same crowd.

But through Devolin, the YARD pro­gram has shown him that the gang life is not go­ing to serve him, but rather sac­ri­fice his life.

“It takes a spe­cial kind of guy to do this. Once in a while a man gets the priv­i­lege of meet­ing some­one like that,” said David.

“I owe him a lot. There's some things you just can’t ever re­pay.”

The gang help line num­ber is 403-205-8191.

Ted Rhodes, Cal­gary Her­ald

Seen in shad­ows, a fa­ther who was once a mem­ber of a biker gang and his son, who was fol­low­ing his foot­steps into a gang life. But with the help of Const. Al­lan Devolin and the Youth at Risk De­vel­op­ment pro­gram, the fam­ily and po­lice force are steer­ing...

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