Vancouver Police Department gang detective Doug Spencer talks to Osoyoos Secondary School students on May 24. (Dale Boyd / Osoyoos Times)
By Dale Boyd
Students in the Osoyoos and Oliver areas learned what it’s like for officers on the front lines of drug and gang epidemics in the Lower Mainland.
Members of the Vancouver Police Department known as the “Odd Squad,” visited schools in the area on May 24.
The squad warns teens against the long-term consequences recreational drug use and experimentation have that can lead to addiction, which the officers have seen the results of first-hand working in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
“Basically the Downtown Eastside is the end of the road for a lot of people as far as drug addiction goes and their addiction is consuming. That is all they do. They look to get money to buy the drugs, they buy the drugs, they use the drugs and they repeat that cycle. Everything else takes a back seat,” said David Steverding, currently serving with the Vancouver Police Department.
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The registered charitable organization was formed by police officers in B.C. to run education programs around the subjects of drug addiction and gangs for the last 22 years.
The squad made multiple stops in Oliver, at the Osoyoos Indian Band and at Osoyoos Secondary School last week.
“What we do is take our experiences or our interaction with people who have either been addicted or involved in the gang lifestyle and we try and convey that message back to kids,” Steverding said. “Just provide that perspective that there are often consequences to the actions you take.”
Through stories of those fortunate enough to live through gang life, VPD gang detective Doug Spencer said he aims to convey to students the outcomes for gang members are drug addiction, death or jail.
“That’s all that is there in gangs. It’s not the glorified media perception kids are bombarded with, on videos and rap and all this stuff. We just show them the graphic truth,” Spencer said. “We use people who have been there and done that to do it.”
Last day of #presentations in #Osoyoos by @OddSquadProd members @DougSpencerOSP @steverdingd plus a @police_judo workout with Chin-I, @Launa_Hinton and @brendonjfrick #ThinkPrevention #GetEducated #RealityBasedEducation pic.twitter.com/UtxTPUWJ1h
— Odd Squad Prod. (@OddSquadProd) May 26, 2019
While students in Osoyoos may not overtly face the problems of gangs in their day-to-day life, Spencer said just because it isn’t visible, doesn’t mean there are no issues.
“(Gang life) is certainly more under the belly here. (Gangs) are around. The Interior is kind of a hub between Alberta and the West Coast for drug dealers and they stop here. They show off their toys and stuff,” Spencer said. “They are here, it just hasn’t come to the attention of the police or the media. That’s why we’re here we don’t want it to get to that level.”
With multiple independent studies showing little to no impact with programs like DARE, which was a popular anti-drug program in the 1990s and early 2000s, the Odd Squad is well aware of the pitfalls of the “just say no,” approach.
“I think we’re a lot different than the DARE program. The information we are going to, or source, is reality based. Nothing we do is theatrical or staged, this is all reality,” Steverding said. “It forms part of a conversation for a lot of kids. I think it puts them in a position where they are more informed. Where they can start asking more questions about drug use.”
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Drug prevention talks and efforts like those made by the Odd Squad to reach teens in a preventative way are not a perfect solution, he said.
“But by the same token I don’t think with any problem there is going to be one thing that is the solution to it. I think in a lot of cases this fosters an opportunity to have conversations with parents and with friends.”
For Spencer, if they reach just one student with their message, the effort is worth it. Students have reached out through social media over the years to thank him.
“Not lots, only a couple, but basically saying ‘you changed my life.’ If we reach one kid of this whole audience, we win. That’s the way we look at it. Not everything is going to work on each kid,” Spencer said.
The Odd Squad was brought to the South Okanagan due to efforts through BCEHS Community Paramedicine in Osoyoos, and community paramedic Todd Kunz, who said the talks “could only put this on with the support and donations from the Town of Osoyoos, Town of Oliver, Village of Keremeos, Kiwanis Club, the Osoyoos Indian Band and Dorcas ladies group from the United church in Osoyoos.”