Sunday, November 21, 2004

Ivey Calls for Statewide Gang Task Force

Community leaders call for action after gang threats: "Community leaders call for action after gang threats

by Sonsyrea Tate and Corina E. Rivera
Staff Writers
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Nov. 18, 2004
With news reports of a threat to county police by MS-13, one of the region's most notorious gangs, law enforcement officials, community leaders and residents are gearing up to shut them down.

State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey (D) said a statewide task force may be needed.

"A regional approach is important, but we need a statewide effort," said Ivey, who has worked with police and law enforcement officials from Montgomery County and Washington, D.C. on a regional approach.

County executives Jack B. Johnson of Prince George's, and Douglas Duncan of Montgomery, earlier this year convened a bi-county task force on gangs.

"If we have a statewide effort, we're more likely to include [support from] the state administration," Ivey added. Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich, Jr. (R) last year vetoed a bill that would have created a task force to study youth gang activity.

State delegates Victor Ramirez (D-Dist. 47) of Mount Rainier and Rosetta Parker (D-Dist. 47) of Hyattsville introduced legislation that would have prohibited a person from participating in a gang or recruiting for one, but their bill died in the General Assembly's Judiciary Committee for lack of support.

Ivey is working with state lawmakers on new anti-gang legislation to introduce in the 2005 General Assembly session. A statewide approach is needed, Ivey said, because gangs move into smaller communities or more rural areas when police enforcement is increased in the larger areas.

Ivey also proposes prevention programs to deter youth from falling into gangs in the first place.

"For the guys -- and girls, too -- because we have some girls in gangs. For those who are not all the way hard core, we need to pull them back to the road of education and employment," Ivey said. "We need tough prosecution, too. There are some guys we're going to have to lock up and put them away for as long as possible."

Much attention was drawn to gangs as municipal, county, and regional police and prosecutors announced programs to curtail gang activity. But it may be too soon to tell how effective the anti-gang activities have been.

County police and the State's Attorney's Office this week could provide statistics only for county police-related gang arrests and prosecutions. The statistics do not include arrests by the several municipal police departments.

Sgt. Tammy Sparkman, a county police spokeswoman, said that in 2003, three juveniles and eight adults were arrested for gang-related crimes and from January 2004 to the present, six juveniles and two adults were arrested.

Meanwhile, police this week remained on guard.

Percel Alston, president of the Prince George's Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 89, said Monday, "We understand there is a threat against Prince George's County police. It is an act of terrorism against the police and the community."

Community leaders said they will cooperate as much as possible with police.

Bill Hanna, executive secretary of Action Langley Park, a non-profit organization, said the entire community is needed to combat such violence.

"I'm not sure the police alone can do much more. The county is understaffed, and cuts in the COPS [Community Oriented Police Service] program will make the situation worse," Hanna said. "What the police can do with their limited resources is reach out more to local residents so that the residents will be the eyes of the police, willing to report crime and criminals without fear of deportation or other penalty."

Hanna said the school system could add after-school programs and bussing so that teens have something to do after school and on weekends other than hang out and get into trouble.

Langley Park-McCormick Elementary School has an after-school program for students already, school officials said.

Hanna said Action Langley Park will work with another community-based organization to start a teen mentoring program soon.

John Brill, Maryland International Corridor Collaborative Supervision and Focused Enforcement [C-SAFE] program director, said his program initiated a mentoring program last spring through C SAFE's school community partnership. He plans to continue it this year.

"Mentoring helps students get the guidance and support that they need; we need to have more recreational activities. Also some parents don't know what to do with their child ­ they need help," Brill said."

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