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Two federally funded positions give the county a way to nip organized crime in the bud.
STEPHANIE KLEIN-DAVIS | The Roanoke Times
The Ashley Plantation neighborhood, with $400,000-plus homes on a golf course in Botetourt County, contains signs like these along Greenfield Street, because a convicted sex offender’s wife is building a home in the community. The husband, Calvert Anthony Thompson, has a history of sexually assaulting young women but was released from prison in June and has reconciled with his wife of 20 years. ]
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
BEDFORD — If Bedford County Sheriff Mike Brown gets his way, a pair of gang investigators will become permanent fixtures in his agency.
The positions — still relatively new to the department — have been funded for 17 months by way of a three-year federal grant from the Department of Justice. That’s a $267,164 investment in Bedford County, a jurisdiction with less gang-related activity than neighboring municipalities, to organize and help lead an effort to eliminate gang-related crime across the region. The idea, authorities said, was to use the money to be proactive at keeping gangs at bay.
As part of the grant agreement, the Bedford County Board of Supervisors will fund the positions for three years after the federal money dries up. By 2017, Brown said, the cash needed to maintain those slots will hopefully be absorbed into his department’s budget.
T he two investigators’ marching orders are simple: Get to the front line. Be proactive.
People in the department talk about the investigators in mostly veiled terms, lest they risk disturbing current cases or reveal tactics used by the team, authorities say.
So what are their names?
The question was met with a momentary pause during an interview at the department. Capt. Mike Miller looked down a conference room table and exchanged glances with Cpl. Kevin Young , an in-house gang specialist.
They deemed it safe.
Deputies B. Cocke and L. Kellison (they asked that their first names be omitted) applied for the positions after the grant was awarded and announced. Some officers are passionate about traffic enforcement, others gravitate toward narcotics investigations. Kellison said he and his partner are passionate about gangs.
“We do a little bit of everything,” said Kellison, who’s been with the department for nine years.
In 17 months, the pair say, they have identified more than 120 gang members, half of whom live in Bedford County. The job requires flexibility and patience. One day might include surveillance stints, the next could be spent on the phone, exchanging information with other agencies.
Miller said the work of Kellison and Cocke aided in the dismantling of a burglary ring with ties to Roanoke-based gangs. At least four people were arrested in that case.
Young said the investigators spend about 75 percent of their time focusing on gangs and the rest performing regular duties.
The sheriff emphasized partnerships, including one with the Virginia Gang Investigators Association, as one of the keys of his department’s success. Greater communication with other agencies often translates to better management of gang activity, he said.
“In the early 2000s we had some incursions by some gang members out of Roanoke and into the western end of the county,” Brown said. “We were alerted to these incursions by high school students who were approached.”
The sheriff paused.
“As Barney Fife would say: We nipped it in the bud. Real quick.”
Since then, steps taken to combat a small — but manageable — gang presence in the county include not only the investigators, but also more training and outreach through the Gang Resistance Education and Training program. The work goes beyond traditional gangs, too. Miller and Young said the investigators also keep tabs on hate groups, sovereign citizens (those who claim they aren’t subject to laws at the federal, state or local levels), even motorcycle gangs. According to state law, a gang is any ongoing group of three or more people who have identifiable signs and emblems, and whose primary purpose involves criminal acts.
The agency compiles quarterly reports for the Department of Justice, to keep federal officials apprised of how the grant money is being used. Robin Sundquist , an assistant to the sheriff, tracks and prepares that paperwork in multiple folders tracking the agency’s progress. So far, the response has been positive, she said.
“The federal grant monitors called me, and they were floored,” she said. “I was shocked. That’s never happened to me.”
But the day-to-day work by Kellison and Cocke involves more shoe leather than focus on paperwork and reports, and department leaders said they’re eager to see what the two investigators kick up next.
“It’s not all about going out and getting training,” Miller said. “It’s going out into our county.”
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