Taking Back the Community: Combating Gang Violence

WAVY-TV 10 Photo

SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) -- Police say a lot of the violence we hear about in Hampton Roads is at the hands of gangs. But what can communities and police do to stop them?

Last year in a special report, 10 On Your Side told you there were roughly 150 gangs across the seven cities. One year later, WAVY News sat down with police, who say community engagement drives down crime. Although it may seem simple, both police departments and community activists say giving people a place to belong -- that doesn't involve crime or drugs -- is what could ultimately save lives.

In Norfolk's Tidewater Gardens, violence is a common theme.

"Most don't make it out," said Pastor Kaya Stephen.

Pastor Stephen knows these streets well.

"317 Rally Street, right here, I lived here 24 years. I had a lot of good times here," Stephen said.

It's also where he had some bad times.

"Actually I've been to prison three times," Stephen said.

But, he got out. Now he's back and partnering with another community organization called "Who's On Duty," trying to make the streets safer.

"There is a lot of work that needs to be done," said Stephen.

Stephen's story isn't limited to Tidewater Gardens or Norfolk. Investigators say people who commit violent crimes or who are involved in gangs are operating in every single city in Hampton Roads.

"Gang members do not respect jurisdictional lines," said Sgt. B.K. Hall, with the Portsmouth Police Department's Gang Suppression Unit.

Hall says by the state's definition, there are four gangs in Portsmouth, but there are multiple subsets of each of those gangs. He says they're constantly changing, so they rely on the community for information.

Hall said, "We need community members that are there constantly, that know exactly what's going on, to kind of pull us to the side and tell us."

Suffolk's Neighborhood Enforcement Team has the same mindset.

"There's too much going on on the streets for any one person or police department to be able to... get a handle around all of it," said Sgt. Jason Lyons, with the Suffolk Police Department. "So you need all the help you can get."

Lyons says there are between 13 and 15 gangs in Suffolk, but community involvement has helped bring the violence down. He said, "Usually the best people to help, or always the best people to help, are the people in the community that recognize there is a problem and have a genuine, vested interest in making their community better."

Additionally, Lyons says people need to be on the lookout for changes in behavior, like different demeanor or different habits -- something that's more than a typical mood swing.

"Once you see these things start to change, you have to nip it in the bud, before it starts like cancer," said Lyons.

If it does continue to spread, the end result isn't good.

"When it turns to that criminal side, it's just devastating," Lyons said. "It's devastating to their futures. It's devastating to their community."

That's why Pastor Stephen and the founders of Who's on Duty are getting involved.

"You can't save the world, but we can start from our own corner," said Trevor Lucas, one of the Who's on Duty founders. "If you give people the right information, they can save themselves."

Lucas and his co-founder Jay Poole did not grow up in Tidewater Gardens, but they believe they can make an impact.

"It doesn't really matter what you look like or where you come from," said Lucas.  "If you live in the Hampton Roads area, these problems are your problems, too."

The violence we see every day affects every one of us.

"That's somebody's son pulling the trigger," said Poole. "And somebody's daughter that's shot."

The Who's on Duty community cookout will be held on July 22 starting at 2 p.m. at the basketball court on the corner of Mariner Street and Riley Street. For ways to help or for more information, you can email the group at whosonduty2017@gmail.com.


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