- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 2, 2009

State prosecutors have improved their tracking of gang-related cases in Montgomery County, with the number of prosecutions reaching about 1,000 defendants in the past two years, county leaders said Monday.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy said that since his office created a gang prosecution unit in 2007, prosecutors have worked with law enforcement agencies to boost efforts to identify offenders who belong to gangs. Mr. McCarthy said his office only prosecuted 77 such cases in 2006.

“This does not mean that gang activity has drastically increased,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Rather, what it means is that we have improved our ability to identify known gang members when they commit crimes and when they go through the criminal justice system.”

Mr. McCarthy said prosecutors are identifying gang members at a higher rate because they work with police and corrections officers to pin down criminals’ affiliations.

Prosecutors also are using grand juries to gather more information about how gangs operate, and in some cases, passing on that information to federal authorities, he said.

Data show each of the county’s six districts had gang activity, with the top areas being Silver Spring, Gaithersburg and Wheaton. The crimes included murder, assaults and burglary, among others. The majority of cases ended in convictions, Mr. McCarthy added.

Some of the gangs are offshoots of national gang networks, but most are locally established groups, officials said.

On Monday, Mr. McCarthy also named Victor DelPino as new head of the gang prosecution unit - the first of its kind in Maryland. There are five gang prosecutors and three investigators in the unit, which is funded through county and state funds.

Mr. DelPino said he is “very proud” to be the first Hispanic to lead a prosecution unit in the office.

Though gang activity comprises less than 5 percent of crime in the county, officials say the groups make residents feel unsafe.

County Executive Isiah Leggett said there was a time when this affluent county did not acknowledge that it had gangs. Even in times when the county faces budget struggles, Mr. Leggett said it’s important to keep funding for youth development programs intact.

“The reality is that we have gangs,” Mr. Leggett said. “And the reality is that it creates a problem for us.”

Police Chief Thomas Manger said gang-on-gang assaults are rising. Ethnic and neighborhood gangs continue recruitment efforts, as rivalries fuel tension among gangs, Chief Manger said.

“The average resident would probably never see nor be affected by gang activity,” Chief Manger said. “But there are certain neighborhoods … where gang activity and the presence of gangs really does affect the quality of life.”

Officials say they continue to take preventive measures to curtail gang activity, such as collaborating with schools and community groups.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide