- The Washington Times - Monday, July 28, 2003

The suburbs of Northern Virginia seem far removed from the worst neighborhoods in the District, but gang activity is increasingly turning up in bedroom communities.

The problem has become so alarming that law-enforcement agencies in three Virginia counties and four cities are banding together to fight it.

“Whether it’s Hispanic gangs or Asian gangs, no matter what kind of gang it is, we need to target their activities so when they commit a crime they are arrested and prosecuted,” Fairfax County Police Chief John T. Manger said yesterday at a news conference announcing formation of a task force.

In addition to car-theft rings and drug-dealing, Chief Manger said known gang members have been linked to shootings and sexual assaults.

“We’ve seen some stabbings and some strong-armed robberies where they make it very well known who they are and why they are here,” said Loudoun County Sheriff Steve Simpson. He said members have identified their gang affiliations during attacks, and gang markings — or “tags” — have also become more prevalent in the once predominantly rural county that is now a fast-growing suburb.

“Most of them are teenagers,” said Sheriff Simpson, expressing concern that newer gangs are challenging more-established groups for territorial control, particularly in eastern Loudoun. Law- enforcement officers familiar with the problem say Northern Virginia gang members are typically 15 to 25 years old.

Prince William County Police are also involved in the task force, as are police departments in Herndon, Leesburg, Manassas and Manassas Park. Federal prosecutors are also helping.

“We will prosecute everyone who tries to destroy the quality of life in this community,” said Paul J. McNulty, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. Mr. McNulty said his office is prepared to use pretrial detainment without bond and mandatory sentences against gang members facing federal charges. U.S. Marshals Service deputies could also be enlisted to provide protection for witnesses involved in prosecutions against gang members.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, helped obtain a $500,000 grant for a gang-interdiction effort in his district last January. He has provided assurances that a matching grant will be included in the federal budget for fiscal 2004.

“This is money to fight domestic terrorism,” Mr. Wolf said.

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