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County Council OKs More Funding to Combat Gang Activity

The Montgomery County Council approved a supplemental appropriation to the County Government’s fiscal year 2018 operating budget for the Department of Police and the State’s Attorney’s Office to enhance gang activity suppression efforts.

At Tuesday’s County Council meeting the Council heard public testimony and voted unanimously to support the County Executive’s supplemental appropriation to the Montgomery County Police Department in the amount of $596,920, and the State's Attorney's Office in the amount of $246,773.

With the additional funds MCPD plans restructure and expand its current Central Street Gang Unit to allow two sections to work together on complementary strategies.

One section will be centralized and continue to focus on long-term, complex investigations that focus on gangs as organizations. This unit will coordinate with federal law enforcement and regional partners.

The second section will be more decentralized and will work with units within each police district. The focus on this section will be on field operations, including on-scene arrests, field interviews, and responding to potential gang-related incidents.

The supplemental appropriation will fund six new positions, including one sergeant, three detectives, and two civilian gang analysts. Operating expenses include funding for three new positions including equipment and vehicles for new officers, as well as workstations and other equipment and supplies for the two civilian positions. In addition, operating expenses include translation and transcription services for digital evidence that has been recovered during gang investigations.

In his memo to the County Council requesting permission for the additional funds, County Executive Ike Leggett wrote, “Both the Police Chief and State's Attorney have noted an increase in dangerous, and sometimes deadly, gang activity that must be address through both enhanced short-term and long-term strategies. It has become clear that additional resources are necessary to tackle this issue. The funding requested in this supplemental appropriation will allow the Department of Police and the State's Attorney's Office to immediately ramp up suppression efforts for gang activity in the County.”

Leggett also pointed out that the County’s annual budget already includes monies to help reduce the influence that gangs can have on youth in the County. “County departments work diligently to coordinate the delivery of services to at-risk youth,” wrote Leggett. “As part of this effort, the FY18 budget for the County includes over $25 million in funding dedicated to Positive Youth Development.”

In calling for the vote on the appropriations, Council President Roger Berliner said, “Clearly we are of one mind with respect to this, this is an important piece. We will approve this piece immediately. We look forward to developing a more comprehensive approach that makes sure we are helping these young people who are being lured into this life in ways that are just beyond words. We need a multi-dimensional approach to this problem.”

The additional funds will help the State’s Attorney’s Office by allowing for the addition of three new Assistant State's Attorneys and one new Senior Legal Assistant.

The Assistant State's Attorneys positions are additional prosecutors assigned to the gang-related cases. It also includes one Senior Legal Assistant who will monitor gang activity; participate in witness interviews; translate Spanish-language materials, taped interviews, and videos; and assist in preparing legal documents.

The new Gang Unit will be comprised of one supervisor, six gang prosecutors, and one legal assistant. Operating expenses cover the cost of four tablets and four case management system licenses.

“As chair of the Council’s Public Safety Committee, I am grateful that my colleagues understand the importance of increasing funding to address this issue,” said At-Large Councilmember Mark Erlich, in a statement released immediately after the vote.

“The County is taking an important first step to combat gang activity in our community,” continued Elrich. “This funding will address needs on both the investigatory and prosecutorial sides of law enforcement. It’s also important that we look for effective programs that can reduce the flow of young children into gangs. This problem cannot be solved through law enforcement efforts alone. We need to address it head on and in a thoughtful, thorough manner. I look forward to further discussions with non-profit service providers and County staff as we examine what more can be done to address this problem with comprehensive, preventative strategies to supplement the work of our public safety departments.”

The move for additional funding is the direct result of a Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy’s July meeting with the County Council’s Public Safety subcommittee. That subcommittee is made up of Mark Elrich (At-Large), Tom Hucker (District 5), and Sidney Katz (District 3), who were joined by Craig Rice (District 2) and Nancy Navarro (District 1) for portions of the July 17 meeting.

In that meeting McCarthy told the subcommittee, “I don’t know that we have a real idea of the full extent to which there is gang crime in the county.” He went on to say, “I think some of the numbers that we cite and based on anecdotal information and what I see in my office, and some of the numbers I am going to share, do not adequately capture the percentage of crime that is being gang driven in this County.”

McCarthy said that there had been 18 gang-related homicides in Montgomery County in the last two years. “That is a terrifying number,” said McCarthy. Many of those murders either took place or resulted in the bodies being buried in shallow graves in Seneca Creek State Park on the border between Germantown and Gaithersburg.

In August of 2015 hunters found the body of 34-year-old Marvin Misael Vargas-Osorio in Great Seneca Stream Valley Park. Police say the murder in Great Seneca Stream Valley Park and the body of another man found in a wooded area off Lost Knife Road in Montgomery Village on November 1, 2015 were connected. The four suspects were arrested in connection with those murders. Police believe both murders are the work of the MS-13 street gang.

In November 2016, hikers found the body of 22-year-old Jordy Mejia in a shallow grave off Game Preserve Road. Police arrested five individuals in connection with Mejia’s murder, all five suspects are associated with the MS-13 gang.

In July, McCarthy also told the members in the County Council’s Public Safety subcommittee that 25 percent of the prisoners in Montgomery County jails are “self-identified gang members.” These are criminals who want it known to the authorities that they are gang members because they don’t want to be put in cells with members of rival gangs and killed in their sleep.

That sobering testimony from the State’s Attorney was the impetus for the additional funding to counteract gang activity which the County Council approved this week.

File Photos by Germantown Pulse

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