Monday, May 24, 2004

Outraged by recent gang-related violence, Gov. Mark Warner said yesterday that the state police will take to the front lines in the war on gangs.

“This is a problem that plagues all parts of Virginia,” Mr. Warner said in Herndon as he announced the formation of a 12-member Virginia State Police Strike Force. It will focus on gang hot spots and work with local police to build cases.

Violence this month has included the gang-related machete slashing of a teenager’s hands in Fairfax County and the fatal shooting of a 17-year-old boy and wounding of a 16-year-old girl in Herndon, which authorities think might have been gang-related.

“They were both horrible crimes,” Mr. Warner said.

Mr. Warner said he will ask the General Assembly to provide $300,000 for the state police strike force, plus $400,000 to create a team of three prosecutors. The unit will be based in Northern Virginia and focus on prosecuting violations of the state’s gang statutes.

Officials contend that aggressive enforcement with strong community support will make a difference. The state’s gang-involvement statutes are being used to jail even those not directly involved in some incidents.

“We prosecuted not only the immediate perpetrator of a stabbing, but also the driver and another guy who was just an onlooker,” said Alexandria Commonwealth’s Attorney S. Randolph Sengel.

“We’re getting organized just like the gangs are organized,” said Loudoun County Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson.

School-resource officers who have been assigned to middle schools and high schools will be redeployed near parks and community centers for the summer.

“Getting cops into the neighborhoods actually talking to the kids is our challenge,” said acting Fairfax County Police Chief Suzanne G. Devlin.

U.S. Reps. Frank R. Wolf and Thomas M. Davis III, both Republicans representing Northern Virginia districts, suggested that the federal government will be playing a more active role in pursuit and prosecution of some gangs, particularly those with interstate or international ties to drug trafficking and other crimes.

“We’re going to have to take out the leadership in a legal fashion to keep this from spreading,” Mr. Davis said.

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