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Although no violence had been linked to gangs until a school-property incident this year, the Galax Police Department is heightening its efforts to confront gang-related activities in Galax and Carroll and Grayson counties.
The police department will hold a town hall meeting at the Galax City Council Chambers, located on the second floor of the Galax Municipal Building, tomorrow, Thursday, at 7 p.m.
Earlier this year, a 13-year-old Galax Middle School student faced charges after using an act of violence to recruit for an organized street gang, the Bloods.
This came after 23-year-old Travis Carlray Goad of Galax was arrested for recruiting middle-schoolers for the Bloods within 1,000 feet of GMS property. Goad was charged with 20 felony counts of gang participation and gang recruitment.
“We have zero tolerance with gang participation,” Galax Police Department detective and gang specialist Aaron Criner told The Gazette shortly after Goad's arrest. “We want to send out the message that this activity is not going to be tolerated, especially on school property.”
Criner said graffiti "tagging" and destruction of property have become more prevalent in the past two years in possible relation to gangs in the area. Parts of the city have been defaced with gang tag graffiti that included references to street gangs such as the Bloods and MS-13.
At Thursday's meeting, Police Chief Rick Clark, School Resource Officer Vickie Taylor and Criner will discuss how the community and police department can band together to combat gang-related activity. These officers will also entertain any questions and comments citizens may have about these issues.
"With the instances that have been going on in the community and our schools, we want to be open to the public about what's going on," said Galax Police Sgt. Chris Brown. "We hope that if anyone sees anything suspicious, they will report it."
Any gang graffiti needs to be reported immediately to the police department so that it can be removed as soon as possible. Brown said gang members use graffiti to mark their territory.
Also, any sign of gang activity in the community, such as vandalism, is documented and turned over to Criner. If a gang member were caught for such activity, he would receive an enhanced penalty for being involved in a gang.
Although specialists normally identify gangs as having a certain type of dress, tattoos and symbols, police are cautious about labeling someone as a gang member just because of clothing.
"Just because someone is wearing baggy pants, it doesn't mean they are involved in a gang," said Brown. "It takes more than clothing to be affiliated with gangs."
Clark, Taylor and Criner will also discuss at the meeting what the department is doing to face the issues head-on.
The police department, in cooperation with the city and the Galax school system, will incorporate a Gang Resistance Education and Training program as part of the sixth grade curriculum this fall. It will educate students not only about the results of gang violence, but also about respect, ethics and morals. This 13-week program will begin Nov. 5 at GMS.
"This is a national program that will help prevent youth crime, violence, gang involvement while developing relationships with officers and families to create a safe community," said Brown.
The Attorney General's office will provide the school's faculty and staff with an in-service program, in which they will learn what gang signs and symbols to look for, whether it is on a book bag or in a letter passed among students.
Four officers — Officers Shawny Jones, Jody Poole, Kevin Hall and Mark Burnett; one from each shift — will attend a five-day Virginia Gang Investigators Association training program in October in the Virginia Beach area to become gang specialists.