Ask most kids and they'll tell you - yes, there are gangs at school.
It's an issue that the schools either decline to address or use specific language to deflect - saying there's no gang activity there, but not addressing the bigger issue. Now, both Albemarle and Charlottesville police chiefs say that sort of careful wording may send the wrong message to everyone.
Both chiefs of police have a message: gang related crime in this community is a ticking time bomb. They say anyone who denies or minimizes the problem is wasting valuable time.
“We know in this community we've had street robberies, armed robberies, from individuals involved in gangs in our communities,” said Col. Steve Sellers of the Albemarle County Police.
Sellers says if the community response stays the same, the situation will get worse
“We know in the commonwealth of Virginia we've had gang initiation crimes where young girls were violently raped and sexed into a gang,” said Sellers.
The Comprehensive Gang Assessment in Albemarle and Charlottesville reports 183 validated gang members and 16 gangs. It also says hundreds of students consider gangs in schools a moderate or big problem.
Last week in an interview with NBC29 a representative from Charlottesville City Schools disagreed. “There is no gang activity inside our schools. That doesn't mean we don't have gang activity outside of the schools, and I am sure that report bares that, and the reports in the past have bared that,” said Jim Henderson, assistant superintendent for administrative services of Charlottesville City Schools.
Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo worries about that answer. “We cannot ignore it. It is not in the best interests of this community, not the city of Charlottesville. not the county of Albemarle. not the broader nine or so counties that surround us,” he said .
Both police chiefs say while gangs have purposefully become less visible - consciously removing tattoos, not using hand signals or creating drawings - they encourage the community to educate itself and actively watch children and teenagers.
“Be engaged, be part of their life, to always know where they are, what they’re doing, who their doing it with, and to hold them accountable for it as well,” said Longo.