Roanoke Police, residents talk about gangs - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Roanoke Police, residents talk about gangs

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ROANOKE (WSLS) - Gangs are something Virginia has been working to fight for years. The topic recently surfaced again in our region after investigators say members of the 99 Goon Syndikate, which is affiliated with the Bloods street gang, were involved in the gang-related slaying of reserve Virginia police officer Kevin Quick.

WSLS took a closer look at gangs in southwest Virginia.

Construction and a new credit union are signs Jeff Artis says the Roanoke neighborhood of Hurt Park is getting better.

"Three years ago on this day you would have difficulty going up and down this street because the fellas decided this is there neighborhood, their community, and they're going to run it," said Artis who has been actively working to clean up his neighborhood. "Whenever you have gangs in your community the only way you're going to combat that problem is to aggressively go after it. You have to recognize that there's a problem.

The Hurt Park resident says he started dealing with gangs in 1992.

"There was a time in the black community and the poor white community when we did not tolerate this sort of stuff and now, we have reached the point where we don't necessarily tolerate it, but we accept it and we're afraid to speak out against it."

Artis has no problem speaking his mind and setting an example organizing events like Juneteenth where kids can see positive role models.

"People have told me that it would be in my best interest not to say anything about gangs. I have been threatened, my family has been threatened," said Artis.

"I think Roanoke is a much safer place than it was I would say six years ago," said Roanoke Police Sgt. Will Drake who adds while they aren't seeing an increase in gang activity it is something they continuously track.

"Everything that we've seen here in Roanoke is been home-grown, started right here in Roanoke," said Sgt. Drake. "Tracking that number and having a true, definitive number, is a really difficult thing to do."

When talking to people about gangs we kept hearing the same thing. Police and Artis didn't want to name specific gangs they know of to give them any credit but they all say the entire community needs to get involved because it affects everything from school drop out rates and test scores to violent crimes and property values.

"It is a community problem, I mean it is. We've seen it affecting families from south Roanoke, from Cave Spring area. That's the thing about gangs. There's no restrictions. there's no demographics, socioeconomic boundaries, there's none. There's no racial boundaries, there's no anything," said Sgt. Drake.

He says police patrols and the Drug Market Initiative (DMI), where instead of jail time first time offenders are offered counseling, job training, or help getting a high school degree, are helping in Hurt Park.

Roanoke police report the following about crime in Hurt Park:
  • Violent crime is down more than 50-percent in the first part of this year compared to the same time period in 2009.
  • Property crime is down too. Things like burglary and theft down more than 50-percent
  • Drug charges have dropped almost 60-percent
  • There have been no weapons charges
  • Overall crime has dropped more than 60-percent
"I think in certain circumstances you have neighborhoods where gang members have decided that it is in their best interest to conduct their business more quietly," said Artis.

Police across southwest Virginia echo the same thing about gangs. They know of gangs and gang members in their jurisdictions and it's something they continuously track and monitor.
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