JOHNSON CITY, TN (WJHL)- According to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation there are approximately 9,000 gang members in a span of 46 East Tennessee counties, the Tri-Cities included.

The top 10 gangs in East Tennessee, according to the TBI, include the Aryan Brotherhood, Aryan Nation, Bloods, Crazy White Boys, Crips, Gangster Disciples, Juggalos, Outlaws, Surenos 13 (Sur-13), and Vice Lords. 

In just the past few months, we’ve seen multiple examples of crimes committed by known gang members here in our region.

March 2018, the suspect killed in an officer-involved shooting in Jonesborough was cited on a police report as being a member of the Crips gang.

In that same month in Southwest Virginia, authorities noted in a news release that a suspect killed in an officer-involved shooting in Big Stone Gap had, “…very strong and documented tied to known criminal gangs.” 

Just weeks ago in Washington County, Virginia authorities captured a man they believed had ties to a white supremacist group based on his tattoos. 

Last week in Carter County, a known member of the Bloods street gang was sentenced to 50 years in prison in the death of his step-son. 

Supervisory Senior Resident Agent with the FBI in Johnson City, Jeff Blanton, said gang activity really was brought to the forefront in 2014 when they, along with local police agencies created what’s known as the ‘Safe Streets Task Force‘.

“What we discovered was is we do have actual gangs from every major gang that you can imagine operating in the Tri-Cities. We have gangs that come down as far as Detroit into the Tri-Cities area, so were pretty easy to get to, and pretty easy to get away from,” Blanton said.

An example of an outside gang coming in is the Felony Lane Gang

They are a gang that’s believed to be behind a series of car break-ins in Erwin and Kingsport earlier this year.

They are described by the FBI as “organized burglary and identity theft rings originating in South Florida.”

“Yes the Felony Lane Gang has been operating in the area, according to some of the police reports I’ve seen, and we, I don’t want to say too much on that, but yes I have seen the same reports you have, I’ll leave it at that,” Blanton said.

We also wanted to know what type of crimes are typical of known gangs here in our region.

“Traditionally what we’ve encountered so far are an older gang member they seem to operate a little smarter, in that they don’t, we haven’t seen the traditional violence, the traditional tagging and things of that nature, but as some of those older gang members have been arrested, I think we are starting to see a little bit of an uptick in the violence,” Blanton said.

Local authorities, like Detective Tyrone Foster with the Bristol, Virginia Police Department said gang members are also constantly adapting.

“They want to stay a step ahead of everybody, used to that the bloods all wore red, and the crips all wore blue, and that’s how you identified with them, but now they are changing colors, they are changing the way they have their hand signs, the way they talk,” Foster said.

But federal authorities said with programs like the Safe Streets Task Force, they are already seeing results.

“We’ve had some pretty good success we’ve arrested, over 157 people just out of the area here including all the way down to Morristown up to here,” Blanton said.

In 2017, we reported Bristol, Virginia Police received a warning from agencies in Richmond about MS-13 gang initiations.

While Foster said they were on alert, they never received any word that MS-13 made their way into Southwest Virginia and that part of our region.