The Asheville Police Department and the Henderson and Buncombe county sheriff’s offices will create a joint task force to “combat the rise of gang-related activity” in the area, according to an agreement signed Feb. 18.
“This agreement is something we’ve been working on now for four to six months,” APD Capt. Tim Splain told press at the agreement signing. “This collaboration is something that we’ve been doing informally for some time, but we wanted to make it a much more formal and recognized effort. We don’t do gang investigations in a vacuum; it’s a collaborative effort. If we’re going to make any kind of impact we have to do it together.”
As part of the agreement, a total of five gang investigators will move into a shared office at an undisclosed location.
The move comes in response to increasing concerns about gang violence in the area.
“In Asheville in 2007 we saw a trend — a 25 percent increase in shootings — we saw a serious need. We began a serious public-awareness campaign [and] we created a gang unit with two detectives,” Asheville Police Chief Bill Hogan said. “We realized as we continued to work on this … the need for this collaboration. We see the violent crime that occurs. Besides shootings, we also saw an increase in street robberies.”
However, he added that the informal collaborations, increased foot patrols and other efforts are bearing fruit: The APD’s figures showed a 12 percent decline in shootings in 2008.
The agreement will give members of the task force full law-enforcement powers throughout the city of Asheville as well as Henderson and Buncombe counties.
“We’ve seen gang problems for some time, and one of the issues we have is that they’re constantly crossing the borders,” Henderson County Sheriff Rick Davis said. “Whereas we’ve always had our jurisdictional boundaries, this task force breaks down those barriers.”
He noted that some recent incidents, such as the armed robbery of a Hendersonville Ingles grocery, have been tied back to gangs operating in the Asheville area.
Buncombe Sheriff Van Duncan concurred with Davis’ assessment.
“I think we all recognize that these are problems that, if we don’t step up and take some action, are only going to get worse,” Duncan said. “We’ve had some issues out in the county also and this gives us an opportunity to get ahead of the curve and head some of this off.”
District Attorney Ron Moore added that Hispanic gangs, biker gangs and “traditional neighborhood gangs” are all active in the area.
Hogan elaborated that the law enforcement agencies have identified “25 active gangs in this region, fairly well organized. We have 50 gangs that have membership but aren’t very organized.”
What are they trying to head off?
“We’ve already seen an increase in robberies, and not only are they armed robberies, we see a little bit of a beat down — it’s not just enough to rob a person,” Hogan said. “We believe some of that is gang-initiation activity, where multiple robbers attack one individual. That’s one thing we want to get a handle on.”
“I think it’s a question of what’s coming if you don’t disrupt this crowd early in the process,” Moore added. “One of the gang investigators sent a Craigslist listing to my office where one of our local motorcycle gangs is recruiting members. We basically destroyed their gang in the last year or two. We put most of them in prison, including their leader. One of them killed himself on his motorcycle in a wreck. So they’re now on Craigslist recruiting for members. Well, we’ll be watching them.”
— David Forbes, staff writer