City showing signs of gang-related activity

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April 24, 2009

4:04 AM

A freshman at the College of William and Mary was allegedly stabbed in the thigh in a attempted mugging last Tuesday afternoon. Early the previous Sunday, three individuals assaulted and attempted to mug four students outside of the Sadler Center. Despite an increasing gang presence in the Williamsburg area, William and Mary Police Chief Don Challis says that there is no evidence that either of these crimes is gang-related.

“We have no reason on Earth to assume these last people were gang-members,” Challis said. “There was no gang symbols, no gang flashes, no gang tattoos, nothing that would indicate they are in gangs.”

Although Challis said he could not comment extensively on Tuesday’s incident due to an ongoing investigation, he did say that he did not believe it to be gang-related.

“Again, there was nothing indicated, nothing that I’m aware of that [would] indicate that [it] was a gang. It was 12 noon,” Challis said. “That’s unheard of. We have very few issues like that on campus, period. But at 12 noon on a sunny afternoon, I’ve never heard that happen before.”

According to the student, who wishes to remain anonymous, the incident occurred at approximately 2 p.m. April 14. The suspect was walking down the path between Lodges 4 and 6, and while the student was walking on the same path in the opposite direction toward the Crim Dell when the suspect demanded money from the student. The student says he tried to walk past him but was stabbed in the thigh. Bleeding, the student fled toward his dormitory as the attacker took off in the opposite direction. Unlike Sunday’s incident outside the Sadler Center, the police were not immediately informed of the attack.

According to one of the victims of Sunday’s assault, an officer on the scene commented that he had seen an increase in incidents similar to the assault outside the Sadler Center.

Challis suggested that the officer was likely referring to crimes in Williamsburg rather than those on campus.

“There’s been more in the city than here,” Challis said. “Last September — and we can’t even really say if this is gang-related or not — we had somebody write some gang tags on a bathroom stall in the Sadler Center.”

According to Williamsburg Police Department Investigator Lang Craighill, the city has increasingly learned of more gang activity over the last few years.

Hispanic gangs have been growing, especially in the year following the arrest of a suspected member of the
MS-13 gang last May for identity theft and forgery at a local Days Inn.

“Yes, there’s been a lot more indicators local to Williamsburg of all kinds of gang activity,” Craighill said.
“From our point of view, it’s kind of hard to tell if it’s an increase or not because when we [look for] information — we’re looking for it all the time — we don’t always find it. So it may have been here longer, but we’re getting more indication now possibly because we know how to look for it, or we opened up the right can of worms under their investigation and now we’re spinning cases off from [that].”
Indicators of gang activity include gang tags, graffiti and arrests of gang members.

“We’ve made more arrests of people that we have enough evidence to articulate are gang members,” Craighill said. “That would probably be the most definitive way that I can answer the question [of how] we know what we’re talking about. If I had to hang my hat on something, that’s where I would do it.”

Craighill says that there are multiple gangs in the area and most of their activity is related to drugs or violent crimes.

“We’re focusing our energies on about four or five gangs right now, but I know that there’s more than that in the area,” Craighill said. “The majority of the cases we deal with [involving] gangs have to do with drugs, at least on some level, or some other type of violent crime like robberies or a use of firearms.”

According to Craighill, victims of gang-related crimes can be either gang-related or random.

“We had one in front of the judge not too long ago where it was a gang initiation … a guy walking down the street was assaulted, and we charged the guys with gang participation and recruitment,” Craighill said. “The people [who] were cooperating with us were telling us how they were picking [their] victims out, which essentially was they just saw someone they thought was a likely victim walking down the street and approached them. So there could be random victims. In other cases we’re working on, they’re targeting specific victims of the crimes and often they’re other criminals, whether they’re drug dealers or other gang members, that kind of stuff.”

If ever confronted by an individual making demands, according to Challis, there is no specific action to take that would be safest.

“The response for a demand for money or other items is very situational and dynamic,” Challis said. “A response may be appropriate for one threat but not for another. Running while yelling for help is a good general response. Giving the person what he or she asks for may be another. If doing this, I would throw the money, watch or other valuable one way and run another. In either case, notifying law enforcement is crucial.”

Citing the previously mentioned investigation, Craighill noted how one potential victim of random violence protected himself, forcing gang members to find another target.

“They were talking to him and trying to get him to talk to them and he wouldn’t stop until he got to [the] door of his house,” Craighill said. “[He] got to his house and got to the door of his house before he stopped and responded to them and then his roommates came out and basically interrupted. They didn’t pursue it further.”

Challis and Craighill stressed preventive safety measures such as being aware of one’s surroundings, avoiding poorly lit and poorly populated areas, and not being afraid to report any suspicious behavior. Beyond personal safety, Craighill also encouraged keeping track of one’s friends and engaging in community programs like Big Brothers Big Sisters.

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