Virginia State Law 18.2-46.1 defines a criminal street gang as any ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal, (i) which has as one of its primary objectives or activities the commission of one or more criminal activities; (ii) which has an identifiable name or identifying sign or symbol; and (iii) whose members individually or collectively have engaged in the commission of, attempt to commit, conspiracy to commit, or solicitation of two or more predicate criminal acts, at least one of which is an act of violence, provided such acts were not part of a common act or transaction.
Location where individuals gather, clothing and gang names are a few factors to consider.
As of 2015, police department intelligence indicates there are at least 2,000 gang members and associates in Fairfax County.
The police department has identified over 80 gangs.
Although some gangs limit participation to their own native ethnic grouping, in fact there is no major ethnic group within the county that is not represented in one of the major criminal street gangs. It should not be assumed that any ethnic group is more predisposed to membership in a criminal gang.
Gang activity is seen to some degree throughout Fairfax County with more dense concentrations in a few specific areas.
Graffiti is used by gang members to identify turf, communicate threats and show allegiance. As a result it is important to call the police at 703-691-2131 if graffiti is spotted. These reports are taken seriously and an officer will be dispatched to the location to photograph and record the graffiti and incident. Once the report is taken we strongly encourage the property owners to immediately have the graffiti removed.
Reasons vary, but often young people who join gangs feel peer pressure, want protection, know gang members, want excitement, seek money, feel insecure, have an unhappy home life, grew up with violence, feel hopeless, or want a replacement for the family.
Several Virginia laws were passed, beginning in 2000, which address this issue. The recruiting of a juvenile into a criminal street gang is a class 6 felony. It also prohibits criminal street gang participation. There is also additional legislation being proposed. There are school regulations which prohibit students from wearing gang clothing and gang paraphernalia. For the most current information on gang related legislation visit http://leg1.state.va.us/000/src.htm, search using the keyword “gang”.
In 1997, as gang related incidents began to occur more frequently, the police department formally targeted youth gang crime as a priority. At this time, the police department instituted the gang investigations unit. This unit was the first of its kind in the Northern Virginia area and continues to be referred to as the best source for information and training to other law enforcement agencies in the region.
The gang unit has been called upon to provide gang awareness presentations to citizen groups, school organizations, governmental bodies, and other police departments. The gang unit routinely targets gang activity thorough pro-active patrol and enforcement efforts, using surveillance and intelligence gathering.
In addition to investigative and street patrol enforcement efforts, the police department also actively confronts criminal gang activity with several education and public service programs including
- Public education and awareness programs and presentations;
- Gang activity awareness training to school resource officers (SROs) and Fairfax County public school personnel each August, prior to the start of school;
- SROs have been assigned to all middle and high schools and are involved in numerous activities to prevent youth gang involvement;
- School Resource Officers and seventh and eight grade public school teachers team teaching the selected lessons in the Family Life Education “Healthy Choices” curriculum.
- Youth mentoring programs in schools and the community;
- Community organized graffiti removal programs;
- Crime prevention officers present information lectures to the community on gangs;
- Each district station has a gang coordinator who coordinates information from the station level to the gang unit along with providing presentations to the community;
- Active participation and leadership of police department personnel in forums, boards and commissions related to youth violence and gang crime.
For more information on resources available to Fairfax County residents please visit http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/gangprevention.