Even as Montgomery County police gang specialists begin to see success in a new enforcement program, federal funding to maintain the initiatives will likely dry up by next year, police officials said.
Police gang units in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties were cleared to start spending a $2.7 million federal grant for a bi-county gang task force Thursday, as U.S. Justice Department officials announced the grants would not be made available next year.
“Every indication is that a lot of that money may not be available [next year],” Montgomery County police Chief J. Thomas Manger told county council members at a joint council committee hearing Thursday. “The biggest thing for me is the bi-county [gang] task force, … we’ve been told that that fund will not be extended.”
After the grant ends in June, staffing for anti-gang efforts in both counties will again face cuts, said Lt. Dinesh R. Patil, who supervises Montgomery County’s two gang units.
Four officers, including a sergeant and a Takoma Park city police detective, are funded by the grant in Patil’s downcounty unit, the squad that cooperates most directly with Prince George’s County investigators, Patil said after the hearing.
“The money [for this year] is in Montgomery County hands, for lack of a better word,” Patil said. “But it’s only one year’s worth of funding. … If we aren’t able to get find funding from elsewhere, I would have to centralize my teams, meaning I would only have one sergeant covering the entire county as opposed to the two I have now.”
Montgomery County police’s gang unit expanded last July based on the projected federal grant, Patil said, creating two squads of six officers each to address gang activities in the north and south of the county, respectively.
Meanwhile, Sgt. Robert Musser, who supervises the department’s downcounty unit, said the revitalized effort has had success. Officers are identifying gang crimes and working with county state’s attorneys to prosecute these crimes.
“We’re going to see an increase in gang activity in Montgomery County in this year’s numbers as opposed to previous years,” Musser told residents at a Safe Silver Spring meeting Wednesday night. “It’s not saying, ‘the gang problem is increasing,’ what it says is that we’re tracking gang crimes and documenting them more efficiently now.”
Musser’s unit has noticed a 12 percent increase in the county’s gang members from 1,286 in 2009 to 1,331 in 2010. Gang members also appear to be getting younger, Musser said, but the percentage of crimes committed by youth has stayed at about 8 percent from 2006 to 2010, according to police statistics.
Of the 232 gang-related incidents investigated by Montgomery County police in 2010, 166 involved a defendant or suspect under the age of 22, according to police statistics released during the county committee hearing.
Safe Silver Spring, a volunteer organization made up of Silver Spring residents, began meeting monthly with police more than a year ago to discuss law enforcement trends such as gang activity and the bi-county gang grant, Hausner said.
The grant pays for a fourth person in the county state’s attorney’s office’s gang prosecution unit and a department of corrections officer assigned to track gang members in jail, said Assistant State’s Attorney Christina Hughes.
“If Joe Smith is identified as a gang-related individual, our team will be there to prosecute any further crimes he may be involved with from that point on,” she said at the Safe Silver Spring meeting.
Following Wednesday’s meeting, Safe Silver Spring Chair Tony Hausner presented that group’s recommendations before the joint Public Safety and Health and Human Services Committee Hearing of the county council Thursday.
Public safety officials weren’t the only voices decrying the decrease in funds Thursday. Gabriel Albornoz, director of the county recreation department, as well as health and human services Director Uma Ahluwalia were also present to plead their case.
“There is a greater need for youth involvement programs in the weekend and evening hours, as well as over the summer months,” Albornoz told the council, citing the hardest hit portion of recreation programs cut in fiscal 2012. “We’ve had to make a concentrated effort just to get the [most] bang for our buck.”
Councilwoman Nancy Navarro, (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring, who is on the council’s Health and Human Services Committee, emphasized the need for departments to cooperate when determining which services each provides to key youth demographics.
To view the full presentation of county department program funding and the state of youth violence in the county, visit the county website at www.montgomerycountymd.gov and check the “Packets and Meeting Summaries,” link on the county council page.