The status of gangs in Charlottesville and Albemarle County is becoming clearer. Four months ago, the city and county launched a joint effort to not only monitor gang activity, but also educate the public. Since then, law enforcement and community stakeholders have been working hard to identify where gangs are and how they operate, as well as how to protect others from going down that path.
"Charlottesville and Albemarle does not want to be a community like a big city that has the big city problems,” said Albemarle County Police Chief Colonel Steve Sellers.
Sellers says law enforcement wants to get in front of a fact that some people may not be ready to face: there are gangs in central Virginia.
"They are everywhere. And you have some that are homegrown that are just a small type of community-type of groups,” said Lieutenant Ronnie Roberts with the Charlottesville Police Department.
There are approximately 183 validated gang members in Albemarle County and the city of Charlottesville. Homegrown gangs have been in the area for more than 20 years but there are also national gangs such as the Bloods, Crips, and MS-13.
"We find that they are much more mobile, they cross jurisdictional boundary lines. There is no jurisdictional boundary for them,” Roberts said.
"We know that gangs are becoming more quiet about how they operate and they operate more under the radar than we've seen before,” Sellers said. “In the past they were outwardly showing gang affiliation, flashing signs and showing colors."
That poses a challenge for law enforcement to effectively police gangs. The Gang Reduction through Active Community Engagement program, or GRACE, put together a comprehensive report showing recruitment is happening in prison more than ever before. It also shows some middle and high school students have been asked to join a gang or know someone else who was. The full study will be released next month.
Sellers emphasized that the region does not have a gang problem on the same scale as a large city. Thursday he will be meeting with former gang members who want to help provide guidance on some prevention strategies.
The gang comprehensive assessment will be released to the public on March 17.