Police official: Gang membership declining in area

By Joe Beck

The reappearance of Kweli Uhuru as a defendant in a case being investigated as a gang-related death comes six years after he admitted, as part of a plea agreement, to being a member of the Bloods street gang.

Since then, gang activity in the Winchester has fallen sharply, Winchester Sgt. Adam Orndorff said in an interview Friday.

Orndorff was one of many law enforcement officials warning in 2008 of a spreading gang problem in Winchester and Frederick County. He estimated there were up to 500 gang members in the area.

The gang problem drew heavy attention after Uhuru, then known as Travis Bell, was convicted on several charges involving the shooting of a teen-age boy in the abdomen at Frederick Douglass Park in Winchester.

The U.S. Justice Department gave $330,000 to the Northwest Virginia Regional Gang Task Force to help law enforcement officials curb gang activities.

Orndorff, a member of the task force, said much has changed since then.

“The numbers have gone down considerably,” Orndorff said. “Due to arrests and law enforcement operations and the simple fact of heavy police presence they have been pushed back to where they originated in Northern Virginia.”

Orndorff also cited the economy as a factor in the decrease in gang activity.

“A lot of gang members do hold semi-normal jobs,” Orndorff said, adding that the onset of the recession caused many to look for work in areas closer to Washington with lower unemployment rates.

“A large majority of our gang members were juveniles and their families are moving away and taking their kids with them,” Orndorff said.

Orndorff said he was familiar with Uhuru from the shooting case in the park. He described Uhuru as “defiant” even as he was being sent away to prison. Ordorff said Uhuru’s involvement with gang activity deepened while he was in prison.

“He’s pretty defiant when it comes to that,” Orndorff said of Uhuru. “You may think being locked up for several years may make a light bulb go off, but he’s definitely made a career out of it.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com