Lynchburg police interact with students to combat gang activity

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LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) There's a rule at Heritage High School every student must follow: no gang-related clothing or symbols are allowed.

School Resource Officer Ronnie Coleman is trained to spot offenders.

"It throws up a flag for me to keep an eye on that kid, maybe reach out to them a little more and do some positive interaction with the student," Coleman told WDBJ7.

Coleman's goal? Stay ahead of the problem.

"We're here every day," said Coleman. "There's always a police officer at both high schools and all three middle schools in the city. We're always out here, we're always looking to be proactive, stop any criminal activity, and keep the kids safe."

Students don't just see Lynchburg police at school. Dozens who take part in the after school programs at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Lynchburg are getting to know Officer Ayesha Khaja.

"We're working with them and not against them," explained Khaja.

On Tuesday nights Khaja teaches a class at the club called "Street Smart." It informs children and teenagers about the dangers of gangs.

"They are staying out of trouble, and understanding and learning about what being in a gang looks like," Khaja said.

Khaja warns them about violence and deadly consequences, before gang members have a chance to paint an incorrect picture.

She also works to show students that police officers are people they can trust when they're in trouble.

"If they understand that, then they will come to you and you have a relationship going before the gangs get to them," said Khaja.

The police department also takes part in athletic events called "Badges for Basketball" and "Badges for Baseball." It's another way for them to have positive interactions with young people, while making them more visible in the community to deter gang activity.