Name of Intervention/ Program
Gang Life is No Life

Background and Situation Analysis
Over the past few years, police services in Winnipeg and Manitoba have seen rising gang activity in both Winnipeg and in communities throughout the province and growth of youth recruitment in gangs. In 2019, police estimated Winnipeg had 25-30 gangs and up to 4,000 gang members and associates. In 2022, it was estimated that the number of street gangs had grown to around 40, many of them Indigenous led. Youth at risk of recruitment have often experienced childhood trauma or live in poverty — the ripple effect of oppression across generations. High dropout rates and few economic opportunities for youth also contribute to gang recruitment success. Most often young males are recruited and groomed for gang activities such as running drugs and guns, stealing cars and break and enters. To a lesser degree, young females get involved as runners and are often sexually exploited. Drug use is rampant, and methamphetamine is the drug of choice. It is often given to young recruits to keep them hooked and willing to do anything to keep supplied. Municipal police employ a gang prevention coordinator who works with community agencies to provide an off-ramp for young people to exit gange. Over three years, this individual referred an average of 20 to 30 youth to community agencies each year. Given the growth in gang activity, police chiefs in Manitoba recognized a need for more far-reaching tactics to encourage youth to avoid or leave gangs and to promote the community agencies who could help them. A committee representing municipal police chiefs secured funding from the provincial government to help youth avoid or leave gang involvement and partnered with our agency to develop a campaign to promote off-ramps to vulnerable youth.

Priority Audiences(s)
Our campaign targeted 13 to 16-year-olds, the age when youth are recruited to join gangs. We met with the gang prevention coordinator and two reformed gang members to learn about the audience. Some key findings that shaped the campaign included: The lure of money is huge as many kids live in poverty. They also look up to the 17 to 19-year-old recruiters who are often older brothers or older youth from their neighbourhood. Some Indigenous youth may feel, due to societal and economic factors beyond their control, that they have very few choices other than to join a gang.

Behavioral Objectives
Our objective for this campaign was to get young people’s attention, increase awareness of the harmful realities of gang life, build trust, and offer vulnerable youth off-ramps to avoid or leave gang involvement. From our research, we learned that an anonymous way to reach out for help was desirable, preferably by text. The real-life stories of youth being groomed or recruited for gang involvement revealed intimidation tactics and fear of reprisal if one didn’t buy into the gang way of life. Anonymity for youth looking for a way out was a requirement. The call to action for our campaign promoted a phone number that youth could text to talk to a trusted community agency offering a potential lifeline for those wanting help to leave or resist gang life.

Description of Strategy/Intervention
Using the insights we learned from our research, we developed three videos to address common scenarios within gang life including illegal drugs, sexual exploitation, and gun violence. The scenarios were based on real-life stories we heard about from our reformed gang member advisors. To make the videos attractive and relatable to youth, the style was based on a popular video game, and we developed Gang Life is No Life characters, storylines, and a call to action. In each of the three 15-second videos, we established an action from a gang recruiter (The Ask, The Invite, and The Brotherhood) and then the resulting detrimental outcomes (The Give; The Cost; and The Bloodshed). The background settings created for these three videos depict scenes common to many towns and cities within Manitoba. From a social housing project to a mall to a downtown scene that is recognizable as Winnipeg with its overhead walkways, the familiarity helped create a sense of authenticity and credibility – an important point we learned in our research and knew we had to achieve. To make the action easy for youth, the end board offers the call to action to “text 204-910-6010 to get out”, and names the community agency offering help. Based on insights from our research, we deliberately did not include the police brand in the videos to ensure the message would be credible to youth.

We brought the videos to life with a digital campaign across social platforms popular with youth including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok. Research on our audience’s media habits revealed a digital campaign rather than traditional media (TV, radio, out-of-home) would best reach Manitoban 13 to 16-year-olds. Plus, a provincial reach – beyond Winnipeg – was required based on growing gang activity in many communities throughout the province, and digital advertising provided the most cost-effective means of reaching youth across the province. In addition to social media advertising, we ran targeted YouTube ads on specific Manitoba gang awareness channels that we learned were frequented by youth interested in learning about gang activity across the province. The digital campaign launched for six weeks from July 26 – September 12 with a second six-week phase from November 9 – December 15. With the videos sharing sensitive content related to illegal drugs, sexual exploitation and gun violence, we had to adapt our creative to ensure it passed the social platforms’ content policies. Our solution was to show the first half of the video – where the recruiter makes their initial approach to the young person and no crime is involved – as the advertisement and then direct viewers to click on the ad to find out what happens next. This took youth to a landing page on our community agency partner’s website where they could watch the end of the video, access the other two videos in the series and learn more about the off-ramps available for leaving gang life. The Gang Prevention Campaign was launched on July 26, 2023, with a news conference hosted at the community agency staffing the text help line. Emceed by the police service committee chair, the event featured a representative from the Winnipeg Police Service, a founder and action therapist from Spirit Horse Initiative whose team provides support to youth on the streets of downtown Winnipeg, and the CEO of the community agency. Media interest at the event was impressive with coverage from CTV, Global, CBC, Winnipeg Free Press, Winnipeg Sun, and There were also over a dozen organic social media posts thanks to partners including the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Winnipeg Police Service and Spirit Horse Initiative. The campaign had an overall budget of $130,000 for development and execution. This included all aspects of the campaign strategy including research (5% of budget), creative ideation (5%), creative development (40%), digital strategy/management/reporting and web page development (7%), news conference support/materials (3%), and digital media buy (40%).

Evaluation Methods and Results
The campaign exceeded the client’s expectations, both on reach and engagement. On the ground police enforcement tactics to reach youth attracted to gang recruitment had never seen such success. Compared to the on-the-ground gang prevention coordinator, who referred 20 to 30 youth to community agencies annually, the Gang Life is No Life campaign resulted in 109 unique phone numbers having a total of 150 conversations with our community agency partner. The Gang Life Is No Life campaign provided an avenue for youth to connect directly to social agencies at any time of the day, discreetly. The police services have presented this campaign and its results to numerous law enforcement audiences over the past few months. There is an appetite for replicating this approach in other jurisdictions both within Canada and in the U.S. Our campaign metrics included: 11.68 million advertising impressions; and 45,666 clicks directing users to the “Gang Life Is No Life” webpage hosted on the community agency website. Snapchat and TikTok emerged as the most effective tactics, boasting high click-through rates and low cost-per-click. This indicates a strong alignment between our messaging and the target audience on these platforms. Based on the success of the initial campaign, the province has provided additional funding to continue the campaign in 2024.

Entry Letter: II

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