Children, parents and curious community members flooded into a West End community centre Monday night to hear Winnipeg police speak about drugs and gangs.
In the service’s first public forum of 2017, officers and community-based organizations advised on gang brands, how to tell if a young person has become involved in a gang and how to help safely extricate them.
"Police can’t do this alone," police Chief Danny Smyth told the crowd at the Magnus Eliason Recreation Centre on Langside Street.
Fifty or so people turned out for the public forum, listening intently as Det. Steve Mitchell walked them through the warning signs: does your kid have an extra cellphone? Unexplained wealth? Do they hide their social-media presence from you?
"The Winnipeg street-gang scene is narcotics driven," said Mitchell, who said often people use social-media platforms to buy drugs, including prescription drugs.
The focus on gangs selling narcotics tied in with one of the night’s other main topics: fentanyl. Although police have held similar forums in the past, the focus on fentanyl is new.
"Its no secret fentanyl is a very dangerous, synthetic opioid," said Max Waddell, an inspector with the service’s organized crime division, which set up the event.
"It’s more prevalent… and we want to make sure people understand all the dangers."
Although Waddell said he by no means recommends someone use the drug, police "just want to make sure that the general public, should they choose to use this drug, (know) there are certain precautions they should take."
In particular, Waddell recommended never doing drugs alone and ensuring that you have a naloxone kit at hand — the medication can block the effects of the drug, preventing overdose.
Many adults came alone or with partners, but some brought their kids with them. One mother looked on as her children listened, rapt, as Myles Hildebrand from the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba explained the difference between drugs as medication and drugs for elicit use.
"How much is too much?" Hildebrand asked one of the girls. He gestured between himself and the kids. "Like, you and me are different sizes so you always want to talk to your doctor about what’s right for you."
There are many good prevention programs such as AFM, said Robyn Dryden, network co-ordinator with the Gang Access Interagency Network. The network is made up of more than 180 different organizations and enforcement agencies looking for a grassroots solution to Winnipeg gang’s problem.
Ultimately, as police acknowledged during the forum, handling drug issues isn’t a problem for cops alone.
"There’s a lot of really good prevention stuff and there’s obviously some pressure with police and corrections, but there’s nothing in that kind of middle gap to help people exit gangs or get away from that," Dryden said.
"We really look a lot at the intervention component to really help those youth and young people who are looking to move away from the lifestyle."
The network's gang strategy will be unveiled early next month.