ROCKVILLE – Police say they are in the process of reacting to an unusually high level of gang activity during the last eight months.
Speaking to a joint County Council committee this week, Police Chief Tom Manger said his department is investigating several homicides directly related to gang activity.
“We’ve had an unprecedented number of homicides, gang-related homicides,” Manger said. “We typically have in any given year, one – in a bad year – maybe two gang-related homicides…last year we had eight — that is unprecedented.”
Manger spoke at the joint County Council committee meeting on gang recruitment Thursday. The committee, chaired by Council member George Leventhal (D-At large), addressed concerns over the surge in gang-related crime occurring in the County.
Manger said the majority of the victims of gang crime in the County are often other gang members themselves.
“If you look at the gang-related homicides…it’s not random victims, these are targeted victims, most of whom are also gang members,” he said.
Manger told the committee that gang-related homicides had remained relatively low under his 12 years as chief of police, but he claims a dramatic increase was due to a hardline stance the government of El Salvador has taken against its criminal element.
Manger said the Salvadoran government broke a truce with the country’s most powerful gangs, which has put pressure on gangs in the United States to send more money back to El Salvador.
Additionally, a surge in violence in Central American countries has led to unaccompanied minors crossing the U.S. border and eventually making their way to Montgomery County. Upon arrival, some immigrants from Central America became prime recruiting targets for local gangs, hoping to feed off their feelings of isolation, lack of economic opportunities and sense of victimization, according to police.
At the meeting, a map of gang activity showed the most crimes that gangs committed in the county occurred in clusters in and around Montgomery Village and Gaithersburg.
Manger said that “probably the busiest area that we’re dealing with right now is Montgomery Village.”
The committee meeting was a rare joint triple committee meeting between the County Council’s Health and Human Services, Education and Public Safety committees.
“I look at the transnational aspect of it, I look at the extortion aspect of it, I look at the multijurisdictional aspect of it,” said Council member Roger Berliner (D-1). “I look at all those considerations and I say ‘oh my, this is a serious problem’, I just don’t see the hope here.”
Trying to find a solution, Council member Sidney Katz (D-3) emphasized the County’s non-profit partners such as Identity, a community-based group for Latino youth in the County, as well as the need for more educational opportunities for at-risk youth.
“The bottom line on this whole thing is what we keep coming back to…and it’s the education,” Katz said. “The way people become better, become more comfortable in their own setting is that they have an education.”