Detective Sgt. Jason Pires heads up Dover's Vice, Drugs and Organized Crime unit
Several high-profile incidents of gang violence, including a shoot out in the city’s Manchester Square public housing development, have city residents and officials buzzing about what can be done to tackle the problem.
Detective Sgt. Jason Pires heads up the Dover Police Department’s gang unit. His squad is charged with keeping a handle on the crime and violence that stem from gang activity.
Q: When did the Dover Police Department identify a gang problem?
A: I’d say it was about 2002 or 2003 when we started realizing we had some gang problems. A bunch of violence broke out in Dover and we did a good job in terms of investigating the actual crime; we arrested everybody who was supposed to be arrested. The one thing we didn’t look at was the gang aspect, and that’s just because we weren’t educated on it. We knew it was gang related but we didn’t know what it was. Then the administration, much to their credit, they sent us to school to get educated on it; consequently we went back and looked at those old cases, it was blatantly obvious that it was gang related.
Q: Where do the various gangs around Dover come from, how do they gain a foothold?
A: There’s a variety of different ways they get here. What they’ll do is, they’ll come down here and set up shop, just like anything else as far as a company goes. The majority of the income for these gangs is illegal drugs, so they go to areas where the market is going to be good for them. If they think Dover is a soft market they can take over, they’re going to come here. A lot of times they won’t go to war or battle with our locals, they’ll just try to recruit them into their gang and pull them in. If there’s a drug crew working in a particular neighborhood, it’s smart for them to go in there and try to recruit that drug crew in. The next thing you know the drug crew is in your gang and making money for your gang.
Q: Have gang-related crimes and incidents of violence escalated recently?
A: I would say over the last five years we’ve seen a big spike in gang activity. The majority of violent crime that we’ve had in the past couple of years is gang related. In the past five years it’s skyrocketed, as far as the violence. The gunplay has increased drastically as well.
Q: Is the rise in gang violence connected to a more robust drug trade in the area?
A: The drug market around here I would say is growing, definitely. We’ve seen an increase without a doubt as far as drug activity, whether it’s cocaine, marijuana or prescription medications. The gang violence is not always necessarily over money or over territory. Sometimes the violence, like the last couple incidents we’ve had, is just over respect. One gang has disrespected the other gang and they’re not going to tolerate it. A lot of times that’s what can spark things off, just a respect issue. These gang members understand each other; they can pick out another gang member quicker than you can. They know the certain things to look for; they recognize their rival gangs’ colors and their hand signs and things like that. If someone is representing the wrong gang in the wrong area, they’re going to get challenged immediately over that, and more than likely there’s going to be some kind of violence associated with that.
Q: What can the community do to help police combat the spread of gangs in their communities?
A: The communication is key. As police officers we’re not out in the community 24-7, the people who live there are. They see a lot more than we can see. The other thing is awareness. Pay attention to your surroundings and what’s going on. If you see heavy traffic coming out of a particular residence, that can be something that can show a lot of illegal activity. If you get groups of people congregating, that’s something you can pay attention to — same clothing, same colors, things like that can be indicative of gang activity. Pay attention to the graffiti that pops up; they consider it the newspaper of the streets. It will tell you what’s going on in that area. Once they get to a community and they want everybody to know they’re there, they’re going to start putting up graffiti. If you see it, contact us; we’ll come out there and photograph it, document it, then we’ll have it immediately removed.
If it’s an emergency, something in progress, obviously call 911. If it’s a suspicion or some activity, call one of the detectives here.
Q: What does the police department need to take its battle against gang activity to the next level?
A: Manpower, 100%. Not just my unit, but the police department as a whole needs an increase in manpower. It needs to be across the board, our patrol division and everything. Those are the guys that are out on the streets every day that see everything that’s going on. The more officers we have out there, the more eyes and ears, the more we can do to combat this through deterrents, by our presence, through prevention, through aggressive operations; that all takes manpower. We do a good job and we have the knowledge of what to look for and the ides of how to combat it, we just don’t have the manpower to do that all the time.