- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

The spread of street gangs in Virginia has prompted the federal government to give Gov. Mark Warner $3 million in nondiscretionary funds to fight the problem.

Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, announced the federal provision yesterday at the Fairfax County Government Center, along with Mr. Warner and a large gathering of local lawmakers, federal and local prosecutors and law enforcement officials.

The money will be provided through the House Appropriations Committee’s commerce, justice, state (CJS) subcommittee, which oversees funding for Justice Department programs and agencies throughout the nation and which Mr. Wolf chairs.

The CJS spending bill also will provide $2 million for the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, which he helped to create with federal funds in 2003, and $500,000 in additional funds to help the Northwest Virginia Drug Task Force in its ongoing efforts to fight gangs in the Shenandoah Valley area.

“These gangs are violent, they are recruiting our children at younger and younger ages, and we must continue to build on the outstanding work of law enforcement to fight these gangs,” Mr. Wolf said.

Mr. Warner and John W. Marshall, Virginia secretary of public safety, said much of the $3 million will be spent on targeted areas in Virginia where gangs are either a current or a growing problem. Mr. Marshall declined to say what areas in Virginia would be targeted.

Gang members have spread to other parts of the state from Northern Virginia, which is one of the main hubs on the East Coast for the largest and most violent Hispanic gang known as Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.

The latest FBI report concluded MS-13 has about 2,000 members in Northern Virginia. Fairfax County police have estimated that the region has a total of more than 4,000 gang members. The report also found gang activity in Fredericksburg, Culpeper, Winchester, Harrisonburg, Danville, Lynchburg and the Shenandoah Valley, and that those gangs are mostly made up of illegal Hispanic immigrants.

Motorcycle gangs also are a growing problem, the report said.

Mr. Marshall said a regional task force of local and federal law enforcement personnel, similar to the one in Northern Virginia, will be formed in each target area. The Northern Virginia task force includes representatives from all local jurisdictions. The Virginia State Police, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Marshals Service also are involved in the task force.

Mr. Warner announced yesterday that local police members of each task force will be given special state police powers to cross jurisdictional lines and make arrests. “This is something every community has to be prepared for,” he said. “This is a battle that has to be fought on every front because it’s something that’s spreading all across Virginia.”

Creating regional teams also will ensure that different jurisdictions communicate with one another and do not duplicate efforts, Mr. Marshall said.

Street gangs came under heavy scrutiny from lawmakers and law enforcement in May when a 16-year-old youth police said belonged to the gang Southside Locos was attacked in Alexandria with a machete by a group of MS-13 members.

Mr. Warner said yesterday the machete incident drew the needed attention because initial police reports incorrectly stated that the youth’s hands were completely severed.

Earlier this year, Mr. Wolf announced that the CJS spending bill will include $38 million in other funds for a national response to gangs. Under the bill, the FBI will receive $10 million to create a National Gang Intelligence Center and hire more agents and analysts; the ATF will receive $5 million for more special agents, and the U.S. attorneys’ offices will get $3 million for 25 new prosecutors. Preventive programs at the state and local levels will receive $20 million.

The U.S. House has passed the CJS bill, but the U.S. Senate has not yet voted on it. Mr. Marshall said he will recommend to Mr. Warner on how to spend the state’s $3 million within the next 30 to 60 days.

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