In addition to their day-to-day responsibilities of monitoring and investigating gang activity in the city, the VPD Gang Crime Unit has been very active in the community for more than 25 years, offering a wide variety of programs and resources to vulnerable youth and women across Vancouver. One of the long-standing community supports they offer is Gang Tackle, a football-based mentorship event for at-risk teens – both girls and boys.
With funding from the Vancouver Police Foundation, Gang Tackle is now in its 10th year, having positively impacted hundreds of youth in that time. This full day event brings together professional athletes, UBC Thunderbird alumni, former gang members, VPD police officers, and at-risk youth to play friendly games of flag football at UBC’s Thunderbird Stadium. Following the games, the guest athletes give strategic talks, and former gang members discuss the myths and realities of gang life with the teens. The 2023 Gang Tackle event was held on September 15th with 85 teen participants.
The scary reality is that today’s youth are under a lot pressure to become involved in gangs and drug activity – even right here in Vancouver. Those most vulnerable to gang activity are youth that come from dysfunctional, low-income homes with a lack of positive role models, as well as kids that are lured by the possibility of easy money.
The goal of Gang Tackle is to show teens the consequences of poor choices, as well as encourage them to build relationships with peers who have little or no interaction or history with police, and with peers who participate in school activities and/or meaningful afterschool activities, such as sports. Gang Tackle also aims to build strong, positive relationships between youth and the police officers to create comfortable lines of communication and reassure the teens that police officers have their best interest in mind.
“It doesn’t matter how old you are or what your place in life is, when you get pulled in the wrong direction, having a mentor or someone you can trust is gold,” explains VPD Chief Constable Adam Palmer.
Lead by VPD Det/Cst Byron Capers, Gang Tackle allows Byron and his VPD colleagues to make meaningful connections with vulnerable youth in a safe, casual, and fun environment.
“Most of the kids that attend Gang Tackle have no positive role models in their lives,” explains Byron. “We want the kids to see that us police officers are regular people just like them. We share our personal stories and can show them opportunities. Even though it’s just a one-day event, Gang Tackle allows the teens to see that they have a chance, and that there are positive opportunities out there for them.”
As a teen growing up in Atlanta, Byron was once in their shoes. Byron’s mom worked several jobs to try to make ends meet, and it wasn’t long before Byron started making poor choices and hanging out with the wrong people. He is always eager to share his personal story with vulnerable youth because he was once one of them. And it was a police officer in Atlanta that helped turn his life around.
“I was an at-risk teen in a really tough neighbourhood. It was a school liaison officer at my school who found me and mentored me out of the poor decisions I was making. That was hugely impactful for my life.” Byron went on to play professional football in the NFL and CFL before retiring to pursue a successful career in policing right here in Vancouver.
It is through Byron’s own personal experience and success story that he has a unique ability to relate and communicate with Vancouver teens who need a positive role model. And it is the annual Gang Tackle event brings everyone together as a jumping off point for ongoing mentorship so more youth can learn to get on the right path before it’s too late. Just like what was done for Byron when he was young.
Click here to learn more about Byron’s incredible personal story, how he overcame adversity and dedicated his life to mentoring at-risk youth.
Check out highlights of the 2023 Gang Tackle event here:
The Vancouver Police Foundation supports programs and initiatives that fall under one of four pillars: Youth Programs, Mental Health & Addictions, Community Outreach & Engagement, and Technology & Special Equipment. You can help build a safer Vancouver by donating to the Vancouver Police Foundation.