- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 28, 2010

With a rising tide of gang violence nationwide, the Justice Department set up two special units in the same building and charged them with helping coordinate investigations into some of the country’s deadliest street-crime syndicates.

But three years later, far from helping wipe out the scourge of the nation’s violent gangs, the two groups are hardly even communicating with each other. And that isn’t the only problem.

In November, investigators from the Justice Department’s office of inspector general found that the two units — the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) and the National Gang Targeting, Enforcement and Coordination Center (GangTECC) — “still have not made a significant impact on the department’s anti-gang activities.”

Yet over the past six months, a review by The Washington Times shows that the Justice Department has done little or nothing to improve these essentially ineffective anti-gang programs. That inactivity comes at a time when the department itself has acknowledged the serious and increasing risks posed by the nation’s gangs.

The inspector general’s office, in a 63-page report, said that despite being located in the same suite, NGIC and GangTECC were not effectively collaborating and were not sharing gang-related information, and NGIC had not established a gang-information database for collecting and disseminating gang intelligence as directed by Congress.

The report said NGIC had not developed the capability to effectively share gang information with law enforcement agencies. It also said GangTECC had no budget and lacked the resources to carry out its mission.

Justice spokeswoman Laura Sweeney on Tuesday said the department appreciated the report’s “constructive recommendations,” which she said are “similar in concept to changes already under review.” She said the department’s Criminal Division has been “actively engaged for many months in identifying possible structural changes that will enhance cooperation and coordination in its violent-crime program.”

Ms. Sweeney said the department is considering organizational changes that will “result in more effective and efficient targeting, information-sharing and prosecution of gangs nationwide.” She also said the department is in the process of evaluating and formulating measures to “resolve many of the issues identified in the report.”

‘One-stop shopping’

According to the IG’s report, NGIC and GangTECC are not effectively providing investigators and prosecutors with “one-stop shopping” for gang information and assistance, and are not contributing significantly to the department’s anti-gang initiatives. The report made a series of recommendations to improve the units, some as simple as merging them so they actually work together.

It’s urgent work. According to a Justice Department estimate, gangs are responsible for as much as 80 percent of the crime in many communities and are the most common street-level drug dealers in the nation. Gangs also are responsible for offenses ranging from human smuggling to extortion and identity theft to homicide.

Law enforcement officials predict the nation’s gang problems will only worsen. The Justice Department’s 2009 Gang Threat Assessment said that as of September 2008 there were about 1 million gang members in the U.S. — an increase of 200,000 from three years earlier. At the same time, rural and suburban areas have seen an increase in gang presence.

And as gangs grow in size, their alliances have become more deadly.

With a propensity for indiscriminate violence, intimidation and coercion, some gangs are considered national security threats. One of the largest is Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, with an FBI estimate of 10,000 members in 42 states, including Maryland and Virginia, as well as the District.

The Justice Department’s 2010 Drug Threat Assessment said Mexican drug cartels formed more alliances in 2009 with violent American street and prison gangs that helped tighten their stranglehold on the lucrative U.S. narcotics market.

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