FBI lists more than 90 gangs in Virginia - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

FBI lists more than 90 gangs in Virginia

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ROANOKE (WSLS) - The FBI reports there are 33,000 violent street gangs, motorcycle gangs, and prison gangs with about 1.4 million members criminally active in the U.S.

The State of Virginia is no exception. Gene Ballance, the Vice President of the Virginia Gang Investigators Association says gangs and gang members are everywhere. The group shares intelligence and trends with law enforcement around the state and was recently represented at a gang prevention training session in Roanoke.

"Many are sophisticated and well organized; all use violence to control neighborhoods and boost their illegal money-making activities, which include robbery, drug and gun trafficking, fraud, extortion, and prostitution rings," reads the FBI Gang section online.

"It's become cool to be a gang member, to act like a thug. Part of that has to do with what the kids are seeing on TV, what they're listening to and music," said Kenneth Gavin, a Lynchburg Police officer. "It's become a fad to look like a gang member and to act like a gang member so you're seeing more and more people want to become gang members."

The FBI lists more than 90 gangs in Virginia. According to the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment Report, gangs are responsible for an average of 48 percent of violent crime in most jurisdictions including robbery, drug trafficking and fraud.

"Probably one of the biggest gangs of an umbrella is the Bloods. There's Crips, there's folk nation gangs, Hispanic gangs of all types. We are not immune from gangs in the state of Virginia," said Ballance who adds gangs aren't growing but there is a disturbing new trend. "Gang members are becoming more violent. That's something that we need to be aware of and address as quick as we can."

"In Lynchburg, we're seeing a lot younger gang members. Mainly between 12 to 17 or 18 years old are your average gang members," said Gavin who works in the gang unit. "Lynchburg would be on the lower end of the scale as far as gang activity. We do have getting activity I'm not going to deny that. We absolutely do. We have an issue that needs to be addressed, that needs to be focused on but I think Lynchburg is at a point right now where it has a gang issue that can be dealt with and can be overcome if everybody's willing to work on it."

Part of that work includes prevention and education.

"We have to remain vigilant and we have to stay on top of it," said Linda Bryant, the Deputy Attorney General for Public Safety and Enforcement. "Kids don't turn into gangs unless they have some major self-esteem problems, unless they're not getting support in various areas of their life and even then, even when everything is going right at home you just never know."

They say there are signs to look for:
  • your child is drawing the same symbol
  • wearing the same colors everyday
  • talking and acting in a way that stands out or seems different

"If a child is saying they're a member of a gang, they're acting like they're a member of a gang, they're dressing like a member of a gang, they're throwing up the hand signs, they're a member of a gang," said Roanoke City Police Sgt. Will Drake.

You can find more information on gang prevention on the Virginia Gang Investigators website or Office of the Attorney General Virginia Rules website.
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