Rep. Frank R. Wolf has traveled the world for two decades trying to stop human atrocities, including attacks by machete-wielding rebels in Sierra Leone who would cut off arms and legs.
Now he is trying to stop machete-wielding gang members in his own back yard of Northern Virginia.
Mr. Wolf, a Republican, began working on the problem in 2002 but said the Washington area’s sniper shootings that year drained the resources and attention of law-enforcement agencies.
He is using his position as chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee on commerce, justice, state and judiciary to help solve the problem and has secured $2.65 million in federal funds in the past 18 months for local police to fight gang violence.
His other strategy has been to elicit the help of federal agencies.
The subcommittee has set aside $18 million for fiscal 2005 to establish a national gang intelligence center run by the FBI; hire additional agents for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and hire 25 more U.S. attorneys to help prosecute those accused of gang involvement and gang-related crimes. The House passed the legislation earlier this month.
Gang violence has become a priority for local police, especially after a May 10 machete attack by members of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, on a 16-year-old boy who police said was part of the rival Southside Locos, or the SSL gang. The victim, who was attacked on Edsall Road in Alexandria, lost four fingers on his left hand, and his right hand was nearly severed.
A week later, a 16-year-old boy was fatally shot in Reston by MS-13 members, and his 17-year-old female companion was wounded.
The incidents alarmed lawmakers and police because it underscored the brutality of gangs, particularly MS-13. The gang was started in the early 1980s in Los Angeles and was made up largely of Salvadoran immigrants fleeing their country’s civil war.
“There is a lot of violence going on,” said Mr. Wolf, 65. “When I was a kid, nobody got killed in school, except by accident.”
Mr. Wolf, who has lived in Northern Virginia since 1961, has attacked the gang issue with the same determination he has used on issues of regional transportation and international human rights. He has taken dozen of trips since 1984 to countries and crisis spots such as El Salvador, Ethiopia and Sudan.
“Frank is principled,” said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat. “And when he takes on an issue, he’s like a dog with a bone … whether it’s telecommuting or the genocide in Sudan, or in this case, gang violence.”