- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 1, 2006

COLUMBIA, Md. — Federal, state and local officials who participated in the Maryland Gang Summit yesterday agreed that cooperation is key for fighting the increasing number of criminal gangs in the state.

Gaithersburg Police Detective Patrick Word said yesterday that there are currently about 10,000 gang members in Maryland. The gangs that exist in Maryland include the Bloods/United Blood Nation, Black Guerilla Family, Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13, Tiny Rascal Gangsters, Street Thug Criminals, Hells Angels, Vatos Loco, Pagans and South Side Locos, he said.

“We knew the gang problem was in every single county of Maryland,” U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski told participants.

“They’re violent. They’re predatory. … A rise in massive, almost ghoulish behavior of gangs,” said Miss Mikulski, Maryland Democrat who secured $2 million in federal funds for the creation of a statewide anti-gang initiative. “That’s what today is all about. This is the beginning conversation. We have to protect our people.”

More than 300 people attended the day-long summit at the Sheraton Hotel. Participants included Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele, sheriffs, federal and state prosecutors, police, mayors, community officials and non-profit organizations.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican, announced the creation of a gang coordination committee that will establish a statewide database of gang activity.

While gang violence is a growing problem, there is a window of opportunity to act before it becomes a major problem, Mr. Ehrlich said, outlining four major goals for dealing with the problem.

He said he wanted to avoid turf battles between law-enforcement agencies, identify active gangs in the state, ensure enforcement tools are available and provide early intervention to disrupt recruiting of young members.

“The first goal is no turf battles [among law-enforcement units and communities],” Mr. Ehrlich said. “In some cases, the lack of team effort results in failed goals.”

Mr. Ehrlich said that Maryland State Police has a lead role in fighting gang membership increases. There are 400 officers trained to deal with gangs and 400 more are being trained. About $4.6 million are allotted to juvenile services to deter youths from joining gangs, $500,000 in other grants, and $500,000 to the Safe Neighborhood Program.

Officials also called for the ability of police and prosecutors to enter areas where gangs are known to exist and work with residents and encourage them to call authorities with tips.

“Enforcement is a key,” said Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, explaining that investigations should focus on where gangs are organized, mostly in schools.

“Education and parents are the best guides for [keeping] children away from gang temptations,” he said.

Detective Word said that residents should notify and cooperate with authorities investigating crimes by youths, even if the crimes don’t appear to be gang-related. The information often will be linked to a gang member, he said.

Frank Clark, with the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services, said parents must be educated about gangs. “Kids are at risk because gangs are glamorized,” he said. “We have to educate parents.”

Prosecution of gangs has increased, said Assistant U.S. Attorney James M. Trusty. “In a perverse way, it almost has the effect of glamorizing gangs,” he said.

Kate Garvey, chief of Montgomery County’s Department of Children, Youth, and Family Services, and Officer Rob Musser said the county has 28 street gangs, 922 members, 50 percent are of mixed races, 28 percent are black and 22 percent are Hispanic.

Montgomery and Prince George’s counties offer tattoo removal to encourage youths to get out of gangs.

“We’re behind the eight-ball,” Prince George’s County Police Sgt. George Norris said. “We probably should have been looking at gangs 10 years ago. … A lot of kids join gangs because they have no family. Somehow or other, we’ve got to get parents more involved with their kids.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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