Police in the Lower Mainland are paying for the tattoo removal of former gang members.

RCMP Sgt. Shinder Kirk, with the Integrated Gang Task Force, said laser tattoo removal helps ex-criminals re-integrate into society.

“We always hold forth in our dealings with gang members an opportunity to get out of the gang lifestyle,” Kirk said. “(If) an individual … is genuinely interested in walking away from being a gang member we can look at strategies to have that tattoo indicating membership removed.”

Kirk wouldn’t say how many people had the procedure done or how much has been spent so far.

“In light of the violence that we’ve seen, if we can remove one individual … in exchange for informational co-operation, I think the cost outweighs the benefits.”

Former gang member Amir Javid said tattoos show status within gangs.

“In other countries they represent rank, if you’ve killed someone or how long you’ve been in the gang, where you were in prison and for how long. They tell your life story,” he said. “Here, it’s a ‘look at me’ thing.”

But outside the gang world they can be a barrier to employment.

“It would be so significant to help these kids transition and integrate into the community,” Javid said.

Jim Mandelin, who’s been counselling youth in the Vancouver area for 20 years, once worked as a debt collector for criminals. He still has a dagger tattoo representing his gang.

“(Removing it) is not going to change who I am,” Mandelin said. “You have to change inside.”

He said the tattoos help him connect with the youth he counsels and if that gives him an entry into their lives, it’s a reason for keeping it.

“I don’t regret getting the tattoos, I regret my whole childhood,” he said.
With files from Kristen Thompson

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