Initiative combats gang violence

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Law enforcement agencies in Frederick County have no intention of putting out the welcome mat for gangs.

They plan to mount an assault against the drugs, robbery, gun trafficking and murder committed by notorious street gangs, such as MS-13, Crips and Bloods, who have been slowly infiltrating Frederick County since the late 1980s.

The Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office announced at a joint press conference Tuesday the formation of the county’s first gang reduction initiative.

With a $15,000 grant from the governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, the county State’s Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Office, Frederick Police Department, Maryland State Police and the Thurmont and Brunswick police departments are coordinating the initiative to combat gang activity.

‘‘The message that we want to send to them is clear, ‘Frederick County is going to be the worst place in the state of Maryland if not the country for you to be gang banging,’” said Frederick County State’s Attorney Scott Rolle.

A Republican candidate for Maryland Attorney General, Rolle said combating gangs could only be accomplished through a joint effort between law enforcement and the court system.

‘‘The best way to solve this problem is for the law enforcement agencies to join together as we are doing here today, and that includes parole and probation ... and nip this problem in the bud before it starts,” Rolle said. ‘‘We are seeing that organized gang activity and things of that nature are on the rise in Frederick County, but we believe if we can get this problem under control early and quickly we can solve it.”

Rolle also asked neighborhoods, schools and residents to become involved.

‘‘We can’t do this as law enforcement alone,” he said. ‘‘We have to have our neighbors and our friends, and the people we go to church with, coming forward giving law enforcement information,” he said. ‘‘If you know there is suspected gang activity going on in your neighborhood we want to know about it. We need to know about it.”

Deputy State’s Attorney Charlie Smith, manager of the initiative, stressed the importance of educating children and parents on how to resist joining gangs.

‘‘One of the major prongs of the gang reduction initiative that the county is undertaking is really community outreach,” said Smith, a Republican candidate for Frederick County State’s Attorney. ‘‘... Fighting gang-related crime in Frederick isn’t just as simple as making arrests. We need to go out and we need to educate. ... Part of this is going to be letting parents know what these identifiers [gang wear and graffiti] are. Perhaps letting parents know that there is an area of their neighborhood where they congregate, so if your son or daughter congregates in that area you can ask questions.”

Though gang problems are not new to Frederick County, law enforcement received a wake-up call last year when six teens were stabbed by a dozen suspected MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha gang members, in Montgomery County. The violent gang attack took residents and officials there, who for years denied they had a gang problem, by surprise.

Law enforcement and officials in Frederick are not waiting until a similar attack occurs here.

In the fiscal 2007 budget, the Frederick Board of County Commissioners funded a gang prosecutor in the State’s Attorney’s Office. Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Lichtenfeld is that new, full-time prosecutor.

‘‘I think this is a great day for Frederick County,” said Commissioner John R. Lovell Jr. (R), who believes the quality of life for residents is being threatened by gang activity.

Lovell, who is seeking re-election, attended Tuesday’s press conference to show his support for the initiative.

The Frederick Police Department already has a gang enforcement strategy in place.

Frederick Police Chief Kim Dine is all too familiar with gang activity. Before coming to the city’s police department in 2002, Dine worked in Washington, D.C., where gang activity is more common.

When he came to Frederick, Dine warned his department and other police agencies that they should prepare for a possible infiltration.

‘‘It takes all those [neighborhoods, schools] but enforcement is the key,” Dine said. ‘‘...As Scott said, gangs have been around for a long time in this area, as well as most of the country.

‘‘...We don’t care what gang you’re in. They come in all shapes and sizes. There are local knuckleheads, there’s neighborhood gangs, and there’s larger city and county type gangs that are part of the region, and there’s international gangs like MS-13. We don’t care. If you’re engaging in criminal activity, we’re going to put those pieces together and send you to jail.”