Chesapeake’s gang problem
Gangs aren't new to Chesapeake, but the police department's decision to establish a unit dedicated solely to tracking their activity marks a welcome turn toward drawing public attention to the fight against organized crime.
Officials had long publicly downplayed the presence of gangs in the city's neighborhoods and schools. That position became increasingly difficult to maintain as more youths flashed colors, as more graffiti defaced public and private property, and as more gang members brushed with the law.
The city is home to 26 to 30 gangs, and police have documented at least 500 members, The Pilot's Veronica Gonzalez reported.
Those figures, particularly given what's happening in other cities, support the decision to establish the new unit before the problem grows any further. They also underscore the need for everyone, from police and the court system to parents and community leaders, to do their part to steer youths away from a dead-end path.
It is no coincidence that local jails provide some of the best opportunities to gain insight into gang membership. Inmates will often admit during the booking process whether they have an affiliation, and for good reason. Not doing so could land them in a block populated with rivals.
Deputies in Chesapeake and Virginia Beach jails have relayed this kind of information to police for years as part of a collective effort to gauge the strength of gangs.
But the jail is just one place to gather such intelligence. Routine patrols, conversations on the street and other forms of outreach provide investigators with a trove of information. Officers visible within the community, engaged with residents and focused on suppressing gangs can make it difficult for members to keep, much less increase, their influence.
Establishing a team of officers makes an even greater impact. It carries significant symbolism, showing that authorities are serious about their intent to make life uncomfortable for anyone affiliated with a gang.
Detectives in Chesapeake's new unit will spend much of their time doing just that.
"Their job has been clearly spelled out," Police Chief Kelvin Wright said. "Go out and identify those young people, speak with them, (do) whatever it takes to let them know this is only going to end one of two ways: With them giving up the gang life or them in jail, because eventually they're going to commit a criminal act."
That's a powerful message, and one worth sharing with the whole of Chesapeake.