After five teenagers were arrested for gang-related activity in Harrisonburg Thursday, law enforcement is asking for the community's help to crack down on the gang problem.
Police say it's a serious problem because citizens are being assaulted and robbed by gang members. Police say the community needs to show it won't sit back and watch this happen.
Gangs mark their territories with graffiti that may look like nothing more than a bunch of numbers and letter. However, for rival gangs, those markings can have many meanings, including intimidation.
"Sometimes it's a way of communication," says Lt. Kurt Boshart, Harrisonburg Police Department. "And they're communicating with other gangs, and there's different codes and different symbols they're using that mean something."
Those symbols can sometimes help law enforcement officers crack the gang's code. After police arrested five teens on Thursday who are all members of the Kelley Park Crips gang, law enforcement is urging the community to take action to stop this criminal behavior.
Citizens and businesses have been affected by gang-related activity in the community. The owner of Roses says that his floors have been covered with graffiti, but he's managed to cover it up right away, sending out the message that this type of activity will not be tolerated in his store.
Boshart says, even though the kids committing the crimes were only teenagers, the national average for the age of shooters in gangs is between nine to 11 years old.
"So anyone who thinks that a 13-year-old child is not capable of inflicting serious pain or death is wrong," says Boshart. "That's something that we've got to just wake up and look at. Say we can't just be tolerant of criminal activity because someone is 13 years old."
If property is marked with gang graffiti, the owner should call police. Before police clean it up, they have to document it and take pictures so they can continue to learn more about gangs because what they're writing, explains their activity.
Police are still seeking a sixth teenager in the case involving the gang activity at Thomas Harrison Middle School and around the city.