March 20, 2014
There are 183 validated gang members living in the Charlottesville and Albemarle County community, but researchers believe that may be a dramatic under representation of the true number.
That was just one of the findings of a local gang assessment presented to the public Thursday night.
The research was an effort by the Gang Reduction Through Active Community Engagement (GRACE) Program, which is a multi-agency, anti-gang organization.
"There are gangs. They are here and they are growing in numbers," said Maryfrances Porter, president and founder of Partnerships for Strategic Impact and one of the researchers. "That's really important for us to know and acknowledge so that we don't have any problems that get away from us."
A team of researchers interviewed nearly 150 people from a variety of backgrounds to compile the data. Porter shared the results with the community on Thursday.
She says more serious gang members have gotten quieter in the last five years. They're still there, but there's just less activity on the streets and drawing attention with signs, tattoos or colors.
Jails and prisons can be recruiting grounds, but it's young men that are most sought after. The assessment found that kids, most commonly boys between the ages of 11 and 15, are more likely to join gangs if they fall into one of these four categories:
-have friends or family already in a gang
-are rebellious and looking for trouble (guns, money, women)
-are looking to fill a void (acceptance, protection, family)
-they have traits a gang wants (fighter, large, strong)
Porter says there are a number of neighborhood sets and national gangs with presence in the area, but the most common are Bloods.
The research found most local gang activity takes place on the north side of the urban ring and up Route 29 in Albemarle County. In Charlottesville, most arrests are in the center or south of the city, including the area around Prospect Avenue and South First Street.
The most common and serious local gang issues include assaults, intimidation, stealing, fighting and drug-related activities.
The assessment was the first piece in a strategic plan to learn more about gangs and address the issue in the Charlottesville and Albemarle County area.
"This does two things. It lets us totally know that the scope of the problem is and where resources need to be targeted for prevention, and then it also lets us benchmark our progress over time," said Porter.
Some people who attended the presentation suggested ways to help combat the problem.
"We need programs for our kids. If they feel there are gangs in Charlottesville, then we need something to deter them, and the best way to do that is to keep our children involved," said Charlottesville resident Deirdre Gilmore.
Gilmore said she'd like to see community centers extend their operating hours and allow neighborhoods to help organize programs for the youth, rather than having the city choose what programs they get.
"I think it's a good thing that we're talking about it. Now we need to be about it," said Gilmore.