- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2006

Federal and local officials yesterday touted their successes against violent gangs in Northern Virginia but called for greater collaboration among District-area jurisdictions in gang prevention.

“It is really a regional issue, a national issue and when you’re talking about gangs like MS-13, it has an international reach,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen Jr., Maryland Democrat, said at a hearing before the House Committee on Government Reform held at Fairfax City Hall.

Yesterday’s hearing, chaired by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, focused on the relationship between law-enforcement agencies and the public and private sectors in combating gang violence.

The committee also pointed to the three-year-old Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force — spearheaded by Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican — as a model for fighting gangs and examined the roles of gang task forces in Maryland.

“The effort from the Virginia side has been a total cooperative effort,” Mr. Wolf said. “This is a model for the nation.”

The task force, which provides federal funding to 14 police jurisdictions in Northern Virginia, has fought gangs in that region with some success.

For example, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly said that only 10 percent of the county’s crimes are committed by its estimated 1,500 gang members.

“Don’t do it in Northern Virginia, don’t do it in Fairfax — that’s the word on the street,” said Robert A. Bermingham Jr., the county’s gang prevention coordinator.

However, federal officials and Maryland legislators said the task force’s success has caused many of Northern Virginia’s gang members to migrate to the District and Maryland.

Gangs are moving because of increased police activity, or simply to find affordable housing, officials said.

“Instead of reducing gang activity, we’re just spreading it around,” said Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Maryland Democrat and member of the House Committee on Government Reform. “We need to work as a regional team to solve the problem.”

Much of yesterday’s hearing was focused on officials’ response to MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, a gang founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s by refugees of the Salvadoran civil war.

MS-13 has since become one of the largest and most violent gangs in the D.C. area. Since February 2005, 190 of 233 violent street gang members arrested in the District and Northern Virginia were identified as members of MS-13, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat, said yesterday that the city has an estimated 500 to 600 gang members, with 75 of them identified as members of MS-13.

Most recently, police said they think MS-13 is responsible for the July 1 fatal shooting of three men in Prince George’s County. And, while there is no evidence in the D.C. area of any MS-13 ties with the terrorist group al Qaeda, officials said such an alliance is “a concern” nationally.

Officials said they have noticed MS-13 leaders from Los Angeles and El Salvador visiting the D.C. area.

“We see influences from the West Coast,” said Capt. Milburne Lynn, commander of the Prince George’s County Police Violent Crimes Task Force/Gang Unit. “People come from the West Coast to either set up cliques or direct cliques here.”

There are as many as 10,000 hard-core members of MS-13 in the U.S., according to the National Drug Intelligence Center.

“The good news is we’re making progress in our fight against gangs,” Mr. Davis said. But “we cannot and will not surrender our streets to the violence of turf and retribution.”

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