- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 5, 2004

An antigang task force in Northern Virginia has made more than 200 arrests since it formed in July, police officials said yesterday.

Police have made 65 felony and 137 misdemeanor arrests and seized 46 weapons, 208 grams of cocaine, 31 grams of heroin and 20 grams of marijuana. Police said 47 of the individuals arrested are being held on immigration violations and have been handed over to the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for deportation hearings.

Fairfax police said they arrested Quincy Lamar Alexander, 22, of Burke on Jan. 28 and charged him with the recruitment of juveniles for a criminal street gang. Police said he tried to recruit a 15-year-old.

Mr. Alexander, who is currently out on bond, was also charged with possession of a firearm on school property, brandishing a firearm, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, and failure to register as a convicted sex offender.

Fairfax County police estimate that there are 4,300 gang members, ages 14 to 24, in Northern Virginia. Police said the gangs have been committing serious crimes like violent assault and property theft.

“This is a serious problem and I think law enforcement is doing a good job of dealing with it,” said Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, who helped secure $500,000 in federal funds to pay for the task force. Mr. Wolf plans to secure more federal funds for the task force next year.

The task force in Virginia is part of a larger response to the growing problem of gangs, who primarily recruit Latino youths. Fairfax County supervisors have scheduled community forums to talk about the problem.

The task force was formed in July, when Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore formed a statewide antigang task force. The statewide task force has done undercover police work, given educational presentations to school instructors and students, conducted training sessions for police officers and assisted in investigations of gang-related crimes.

“They’ve been very successful. It’s an indication of what can happen when jurisdictions work together,” Mr. Wolf said.

The Northern Virginia task force is made up of police officers and officials from Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties, as well as Herndon and Leesburg, Manassas and Manassas Park. Members of the ICE, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also are involved.

Much of the increased gang activity in Northern Virginia has been the result of immigrants from El Salvador, Fairfax police have said.

Police have said many Salvadorans, some of whom have received paramilitary training, bring a violent culture from a country that was torn apart by civil war in the 1980s. More than one million Salvadorans fled during that decade.

Herndon Police Sgt. Jerry S. Keys, a spokesman for the Northern Virginia task force, said most of the 47 illegal immigrants were from Central American countries, including El Salvador.

“They’re being processed through for return to their original countries,” Sgt. Keys said.

But local Salvadorans have said that many immigrants, primarily youths, learn the gang culture when they arrive in major cities like the Washington area or Los Angeles, with little or no English-speaking skills and few options for money or relationships.

Fairfax Lt. Col. Charles Peters said at a press conference yesterday that gang members prey easily on such youths. Col. Peters described the average gang recruiter as “someone who’s opening doors and making the gang life seem attractive or inviting to someone.”

Gang recruitment, a Class 6 felony, is a somewhat vague offense.

“It’s not about handing out brochures and you sign on the bottom line. Quite often people think young folks need to be intimidated to get involved in gangs when in fact it often turns out to be quite the opposite. Gangs can be very inviting to youth,” Col. Peters said.

David Drebes contributed to this report.

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