Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger on Monday warned of a growing trend of gang violence in the County.
Manger told the Montgomery County Council Public Safety Committee that there was an uptick in gang violence in 2016. While the number of gang-related crimes has increased, Manger warned that the main concern is crimes are increasingly becoming more violent and are being done by younger and younger people.
“If you look at the number of gang crimes the number is still relatively low, but the nature of the violence has increased and the age of the perpetrators has decreased. We’re seeing younger people involved,” Manger said.
The overall number of homicides was halved from 30 in 2015 to 15 in 2016. In those two years, 18 of the 45 homicides were gang related.
But while homicides are down, gang activity is up and it’s hard to quantify how much, State’s Attorney for Montgomery County John McCarthy said. It is hard to keep track on how many gang-related crimes occur in the County.
“I really don’t know that we have a real idea of the full extent to which there is gang crime in the County,” McCarthy said. “That may be heck of a thing for someone in my position to say, but I will tell you that I think some of the numbers that we cite — based on anecdotal information and what I see in my office and some of the examples I’m going to give you — do not adequately capture the percentage of crime that is being gang-driven in this County.”
A police study indicated gang crimes are often underreported because much of gang-related crime is between gangs, and that gang members usually do not call the police if they were victims of a crime from a rival gang. Additionally, victims of gang-related crimes rarely know whether a criminal is a in a gang, unless the perpetrators tell the victim explicitly that he or she belongs to a specific gang.
Generally police are only able to identify gang members if the suspect is a self-declared member of a gang, if the victim can accurate attribute a gang-relation to the suspect, or if the police’s gang unit is able to find signs – often tattoos that point to a gang’s affiliation.
For years, local authorities have largely attributed increased gang activity to instability in Central America. According to police, because of increased crackdowns from Central American governments, gangs such as MS-13 have put more pressure on their American affiliates to step up drug traffic and other criminal activities.
McCarthy said MS-13, Latin Kings, Bloods and Hit Squad are the gangs causing the most violence in the County.