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Gang activity on the rise in Lynchburg

Number of gangs, identified gang members risen since last year

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LYNCHBURG, Va. – Gang activity is on the rise in Lynchburg.

The Lynchburg Police Department says it is tackling the issue, but it needs the community's involvement too. 

I spoke with the founder of up foundation, an alternative program that helps Lynchburg's young people stay out of trouble. 

He says it's concerning to see the rise in gangs and they're committed to helping these young people.

The Up Foundation recently held a community dialogue to speak with Chief Ryan Zuidema about the Hill City's youth involved in substance abuse and gang activity.

"One of the things we talked about is how very important it is for our community to come together collaborate with each other in order to address this problem," said James Stewart, founder of the Up Foundation. 

A year ago, Lynchburg police told 10 News there were 43 classified gangs with more than 500 known members. 

Now, those numbers are up, with about 630 identified gang members and about 50 gangs around the Hill City. 

"The change in the numbers can be misleading sometimes. I think part of the reason you see the difference in those numbers there is because we're doing a better job as a police department of actually identifying those folks," said Chief Ryan Zuidema.   

A majority of them are in their mid-teens to early 30s -- recruiting as early as middle school.

At that age, often that's because they're more impressionable. they tend to be vulnerable or gullible," said Chief Zuidema. 

Police say they are seeing a combination of home-grown, local gangs, as well as gang affiliates from out of state. 

To fix this problem, Chief Zuidema says their school resources officers are educating middle and high school students about gangs -- but the teaching has to continue at home too.

"We're certainly trying to educate the community as well to make sure they understand this is not just a police department problem, this is a community problem. We want to work in partnership with them to identify gang members and address them and remove the violent gang activity out of our community," said Cheif Zuidema. 

Chief Zuidema said although there are gang members in Lynchburg who are affiliated with out of state gangs, it doesn't mean those members are here. 

He says its a serious issue, and they are committed to prosecuting anyone who is involved in gang crimes in the Hill City.