ROANOKE, Va. - Roanoke police are addressing gang violence.
Leaders have described the problem in different ways over the years, after not acknowledging gangs for a while in the early 2000s.
Police Chief Tim Jones told 10 News on Wednesday that there’s still gang activity in Roanoke. He said it’s not widespread and the department is putting a lot of resources into tracking people and groups.
“I'd love to be able to tell you that we don't have a gang problem in Roanoke, but we do, but ours is a little more localized,” he said, adding the Roanoke's problem doesn't compare to cities like Chicago.
Jones said the department is paying close attention to people who may be linked to gangs.
“To say that we don't have a presence of folks who have an affiliation with a particular nationally-recognized gang, that would be untrue,” he said.
The police monitoring includes working with surrounding departments and teams to talk about who could be in what location.
“If we can address it through our violent crime task force or our in-house resources, we do that as frequently and as actively as we can,” he said.
Roanoke police haven’t commented recently on which gangs are in the city.
Detective Kenneth Custer investigates major crimes in Roanoke and has eight years of experience investigating gangs.
“It's definitely something to be very aware of,” Custer said.
He believes parents talking to their kids about gangs can go a long way toward preventing recruitment. Sometimes, though, gangs can be hard to spot.
“It's just a neighborhood thing. They're just friends hanging out. But that can change once criminal activity takes place,” he said.
For a while, Roanoke denied that there was gang activity. Former Chief Joe Gaskins famously said this to WSLS in 2003:
"The word 'gangs' simply sensationalizes a group of criminals that comes together for the sake of committing crime.”
There's a large burden of proof to prosecute a crime under gang charges, so if those charges aren’t in play, the public often doesn’t know if the crime is gang-related.
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