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Published 12:59 am Saturday, October 22, 2011

Police urge cooperation to beat gangs

Wexford Downs resident Cheryl Cachnoff began to worry when she saw a group of teenagers hanging out late in her neighborhood for several days.

So she called police to warn them about what she considered to be suspicious activity, same as she does whenever she sees something suspicious in Wexford Downs.

“Nothing stops if you don’t step in,” she said.

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Cachnoff was one of more than 30 people, mostly from homeowners associations in North Suffolk or around the King’s Fork area, who attended a gang awareness meeting Thursday to learn about gangs in the city and how the police department is fighting them.

The meeting was hosted by the Suffolk Police Department and United Property Association at Open Door Church.

Benna Thomas, the manager for King’s Landing apartments, said she coordinated the meeting, because she had seen some suspicious activity around the area and wanted residents to be informed.

“All of us need to be (the police department’s) ears and eyes,” she said. “We need to tell them what you see. It’s the best way we can help them.”

Four officers from the North Suffolk Neighborhood Enforcement Team, which monitors gang activity, gave an overview of gang activity in Suffolk in recent years and highlighted what the city is doing to keep it in control.

Officer Rob Fahrman told the crowd he thinks the city has done a good job of keeping the gang problem under control.

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of staying on top of it,” he said. “We don’t have the gang issue we had four or five years ago.”

He said the city has made fighting gang violence a priority, and because of that, Suffolk doesn’t have the problems other cities in Hampton Roads do.

“We don’t have that issue, because we devote more resources to it,” he said.

Suffolk has two NET units that each patrol the northern and southern ends of the city, with a total of nine officers handling gang crimes.

During their presentation, the officers also discussed gangs that are still in the city and still committing crimes, such as the Get Money Boyz in the Wexford Downs and King’s Landing areas.

They summarized the kind of activities and behaviors residents can look for if they suspect gang activity, such as symbols like stars and letters on students’ personal belongings.

Farhman urged the residents to ask kids about the symbols on their backpacks.

“Maybe the kids just like six-point stars, but maybe it’s something more,” he said. “Ask them.”

At the end of the presentation, the attendees asked questions about topics, such as curfew and whom to call if you suspect gang activity.

Lisa Tsetsilas, the assistant manager for the Burbage Grant neighborhood, said she encouraged homeowners to come to the meeting because of gang problems the neighborhood has had in the past.

However, she said, she thinks the NET unit has done a great job of addressing the issue in Burbage Grant.

“We’re happy with what they’ve done,” she said. “They really have quashed it.”