Gang Activity at AHS

Lorena Best, Staff Reporter

Many students at Albemarle High School this year have witnessed fights. People often believe that fights are started by gang members, is this just an assumption or fact?  Are gangs a problem at AHS?

County high schools have seen more gang activity in recent years, such as fights in and out of school, weapon violations, and certain altercations between certain groups in the community, according to Albemarle County Police Department’s (ACPD) gang investigator Detective James Hope

Hope works on the Federal Gang Task Force in identifying gang members who commit criminal offenses and determining the criminal activities that are committed.

He believes that gang activity is slightly higher at AHS because it is the most crowded school in the county.

Hope feels that for the first time gangs are becoming a little bit of an issue.

“We have suspected gang taggings at the schools and believe that some of the assaults and fights are gang related and do know that they are present in our county schools,” ACPD Sergeant Terry Walls said.  

Anyone can be a part of a gang, though being in a gang is not illegal in of itself. Gang activity can occur anywhere in society and at any time.

School Resource Officer (SRO) Angela Jamerson feels that it is naive for people to believe that gang activity does not occur locally.

Albemarle County has had gang activity for over 30 years and is home to second and third generation gang members.

In 2014, the Gang Reduction through Active Community Engagement (GRACE) group compiled a comprehensive gang assessment report.

There were a total of 480 offenses in Charlottesville/Albemarle in 2014, according to the GRACE report.  Youth gang members committed 4.8 percent of these offenses.  

Gangs that have the most activity in Charlottesville/Albemarle are the Bloods as the most common gang with 36.7 percent followed by the Crips at 24.4 percent. Prospect Avenue and South 1st Street have the most offenses involving gang members.

There is a total of 3.2 percent of MS-13 gang members in Charlottesville. MS-13 is a street gang that was born in Los Angeles from refugees in El Salvador. It stands for Mara Salvatrucha or Salvatrucha guerrilla gang. This is a violent gang that is known internationally.

Of all the crimes committed in the county, 70 percent are caused by gang members involved in drug dealing, home invasions, and other offenses, according to Hope.

Crime reports in Albemarle County from 2015 show that vandalism and assaults have gone up 12 percent, and that most violence in the area is committed by gang members.

To reduce gang violence in the area, there is a new gang task force  and two gang teams in the ACPD.

In addition, the county and city do work together in gang operations, sharing information, identify gang members and often arrest them. Also, the G.R.A.C.E. committee prevents younger kids at risk to keep them from getting involved with gangs as they get older.

“Gangs are not made out to look cool and isn’t what you see in the movies all the time,” Hope said