- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 20, 2004

Rep. Frank R. Wolf yesterday announced that law-enforcement officialswill get an additions $500,000 in federal funds to help fight gangs in Northern Virginia, bringing federal assistance to $2.65 million in the past 18 months.

The federal funding almost matches the amount of money that Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties have spent tackling the gang problem this year. The three counties have set aside $2.68 million to fund law-enforcement gang units during the current fiscal year.

“We can’t hide from the fact that there is a gang problem in the place we call home,” said Mr. Wolf, Virginia Republican, who is chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department.

“The violence of the last two weeks shows we must continue to give our local law-enforcement teams the assistance and resources necessary to stop this cancer from spreading in our communities,” Mr. Wolf said at a press conference at the Fairfax County Government Center.

Mr. Wolf was referring to the two recent gang-related incidents in Fairfax County that have prompted the public to pay more attention to what is a growing problem with gang membership and activity, according to state law-enforcement officials.

On Sunday night, a 17-year old Herndon boy was fatally shot and a 16-year-old girl was wounded by men who police think are members of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13. The girl is in stable condition at Reston Hospital Center. No arrests have been made in that case. MS-13 is Northern Virginia’s largest and most violent gang, police have said.

That attack took place six days after several MS-13 members attacked a 16-year-old boy with a machete in Alexandria, severing four of his fingers and severely maiming his hands, police said.

Police said the boy is a member of a rival gang, the Southside Locos, the fastest-growing gang in the region. Fairfax County police arrested an 18-year old Annandale man in connection with the May 10 attack.

Mr. Wolf said yesterday that the new money will be divided between the 10th District Gang Task Force and Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force.

The 10th District Gang Task Force comprises law-enforcement officials from Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William, Manassas, Manassas Park, Leesburg and Herndon. The Northwest Regional Drug Task Force comprises law-enforcement officials from Frederick, Clarke, Warren, Page, Shenandoah, Winchester and Front Royal.

The 10th District Task Force, which also includes law-enforcement officials from Alexandria and Arlington, will receive $350,000. The Northwest Virginia Regional Drug Task Force will receive $150,000.

Federal and local law-enforcement officials joined Mr. Wolf at yesterday’s press conference. They included Paul J. McNulty, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; John L. Brownlee, U.S. attorney for the Western District of Virginia; Michael Mason, who runs the FBI’s D.C. field office; Lt. Col. Suzanne Devlin, who is acting Fairfax County police chief, and representatives from the the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Drug Enforcement Administration, and the U.S. marshals.

ATF has increased the number of agents working with the two gang task forces from four to seven.

“This community sits at a crossroads,” Mr. McNulty said. “We can only go one of two directions from here. We will either slide into a greater problem of violence and degradation of our community as the result of gang violence, or we can turn from here and put more effort and focus our attention on this gang problem, and bring it to a stop before it gets worse.”

Mr. McNulty said that without Mr. Wolf’s help in obtaining federal funds to fight gangs, “I can’t imagine where we’d be in dealing with this problem.”

Since the latest gang violence, law-enforcement officials repeatedly have stressed the need for family and community involvement and for local programs to keep schoolchildren and teenagers busy.

Fairfax police have estimated that 60 percent of the 4,300 gang members in Northern Virginia are of middle school and high school age.

Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties fund police gang units but do not have money clearly budgeted for other antigang efforts.

Fairfax County has set aside $1.4 million for its 11-member gang unit in fiscal 2004. Loudoun County has allocated $727,362 for its five-member gang unit. Prince William County has budgeted $544,930 for its five-member gang unit, which includes five additional part-time officers.

Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said the county is assessing which of its programs can be used to divert teens from destructive behavior.

“We’re trying to say it’s everybody’s mission,” Mr. Connolly said. “If you ask the librarians, ‘Do you have any role in gangs?’ they would say no. We want to get the message out that no matter what you’re doing, you may be able to make a referral, and we may be able to do something about gang activity or recruitment.”

Mr. Connolly said he thought it was appropriate for the federal government to be co-funding the antigang effort.

“Local government needs help, and the federal government is in a position to provide some of that. We would welcome more federal help to fund some of these programs,” he said.

Dan Scandling, a spokesman for Mr. Wolf, said the congressman will continue to push for more resources if there’s a need.

“He is very, very concerned that this problem not grow any larger than it is,” he said. “This is not a problem that can be avoided, or a problem that you close your eyes and hope it goes away.”

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