Authorities believe at least four of this year’s seven homicides are linked to gang activity, according to a presentation by Danville Police Chief Philip Broadfoot.
Broadfoot addressed Danville City Council on crime in the city Tuesday night.
He also talked briefly about strategies to reduce violent crime, including collaboration with local and federal law enforcement agencies and a comprehensive gang model for prevention and intervention of gang activity.
Since November 2016, there were 57 search warrants executed through Danville, Broadfoot said.
Out of the 57 search warrants, 25 were for gang participation and 32 were drug or firearm related — with 53 firearms being seized.
“We are convinced, through observation and intelligence, that this effort contributed to the reduction of violent crime during the winter and spring months,” Broadfoot said.
In January, Virginia State Police assigned two troopers to work weekends with the city’s Street Crimes Unit and Special Investigations officers on stopping the gangs, Broadfoot said.
On June 1, five Virginia State troopers were assigned to supplement that effort for the summer months. “They will work closely with Danville officers in the areas of drug interdiction and gang suppression,” Broadfoot said.
In addition, four special agents will work fulltime to assist Danville police in gang and drug investigations.
“I am confident that the suppression efforts presented tonight can have a demonstrable [impact] in the near future on gang activity” and the murder rate, Broadfoot said.
Danville City Manager Ken Larking said two new civilian positions were added to the budget “that will enable sworn police officers to spend more time patrolling the streets.”
Larking also said the gang task force has decided to adopt a comprehensive gang model, recommended by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Larking said a three pronged approach to combating youth violence and gang activity — suppression, prevention and intervention — is key to “put them on the right path.”
The jump in violence in Danville — there were three homicides in 2014, six in 2015, and a city record 16 in 2016 — “can be attributed to younger offenders, gang affiliation, social media and access to firearms,” according to Broadfoot’s presentation.
There were three homicides last week in Danville.
“Social media exacerbates conflict,” Broadfoot said, touching on the issue of people logging onto websites like Facebook or Instagram to create or contribute to threats of violence against others.
Social media also is used by gang members to represent and show off their set, weapons and money.
“Gang activity is increasing not only in Danville, but also in the region and in a multistate area on the East Coast,” Broadfoot said.
Broadfoot explained that in the past, “the gangs in Danville have been loosely associated with the national gang organizations.”
There has been a more concentrated push by the national gangs to “bring the various homegrown and neighborhood gang groups under their direction,” Broadfoot continued.
That push by the national gangs “is a major driver of our murder problem,” Broadfoot said. “The consolidation effort [by the national gangs] has created power struggles that create the climate for murder.”
Mayor John Gilstrap commended Broadfoot and the police department on the joint effort with other law enforcement agencies.
“Sometimes it is not known all the work” that goes into police work, Gilstrap said. “We as a city are not just watching. We are being proactive.”
“We’re not going to tolerate” the violence, Vice Mayor Alonzo Jones said after Broadfoot’s presentation.
It is “time to take our city back,” Danville councilman James Buckner said after Broadfoot’s presentation.
City council member Lee Vogler said adding more police and more resources are necessary, “but what can you do when we have people in our community who are determined, it seems, to kill one another?”
“If the attraction to joining a gang is not eliminated by a concerted community effort,” Broadfoot said, “our success in suppression will be short lived.”