You can rest a little easier

Published 8:16 pm Monday, January 21, 2013

While researching a story inspired by a gang-prevention seminar he attended at a Suffolk high school in late 2012, Suffolk News-Herald reporter Matthew Ward learned something interesting about gangs in the city: In 2011, Suffolk prosecutors filed 84 gang-related charges in court, just three shy of the total number of gang-related charges during the same period for Richmond and the rest of Hampton Roads.

The surprising statistic could lead one to conclude that Suffolk has a disproportionate problem with gangs. But prosecutors and police say it’s more accurate to conclude that the city is using all available resources within the legal system to eradicate the influence of violent street gangs from within Suffolk’s borders.

Indeed, since the gang-related shooting death of 14-year-old Diane Holland on Hunter Street in July 2005, Suffolk has turned up the heat on gangs in a big way. The city’s police force now has two Neighborhood Enforcement Teams focused on lodging criminal charges against people known to be affiliated with gangs in Suffolk, and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office includes a gang-prosecution team with five attorneys who spend at least a portion of their time coordinating efforts with the NET teams.

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The aggressive approach, coupled with vigorous education and outreach initiatives, has kept the city from the clutches of the national and international gangs that have sought to establish their territories in Suffolk, according to Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips Ferguson.

An anti-gang task force established in 2005 and comprising representatives from the city’s police department, the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office, the public school system, the Virginia State Police, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and others has worked to keep pressure on the gangs and ensure the safety of people and property in Suffolk from their presence.

The effort has been an effective, though imperfect, response to a problem that could have had severely negative consequences to the city’s quality of life, and those involved in it are to be commended for their creative, comprehensive approach to solving the problem. Citizens of Suffolk can rest a little easier tonight knowing that law enforcement is on the case.