ROCKVILLE – The Public Safety (PS) and Health and Human Service (HHS) Committees for Montgomery County met on Jan. 23 to receive an update on gang activity and gang prevention services in the county.
Police, state attorneys and many public institutions were called up to speak about their results and what they are doing to combat gang violence.
According to county officials, gang-related crime, other than homicides, has remained relatively consistent over the past five years. Several years ago, the county experienced a significant increase in gang-related homicides.
That trend began in 2015 with eight gang-related homicides. This number fell to two in 2016 but saw another spike back to eight in 2017. There were no gang-related homicides in 2018 and six in 2019.
Lt. Ruben Rosario, deputy director of the special unit division and overseer of the gang unit, provided more statistics.
“Overall, gang-related violent crimes decreased by 25% in 2019,” said Rosario. “This reduction was driven by a decrease in robberies, assaults and weapon offenses. Known gang-related crimes decreased significantly by 43%.”
Location is playing a part in the crime rates. According to the Montgomery County Police (MCP), between 2015-2017, crime was mostly concentrated in the northern part of the county, but since 2018, there has been more activity in the Germantown area.
Chief Darryl McSwain of Maryland National Capital Park Police (M-NCPP) stated that they struggle with gathering evidence for witnesses.
“Two of the biggest issues we have found are gang intimidation and the fear of deportation,” said McSwain.
Much of the gang-related crime is committed by youth under 22. In 2019, about 65% of known gang-related crime was committed by those under 22, which is an increase from the 61% posted in 2018. Youths were responsible for 82% of all gang-related robberies and 65% of gang-related weapon offenses.
Due to the significant spike in gang-related homicides in 2017, the council approved a supplemental appropriation for almost $850,000 to add positions and other resources to both the police department and the state’s attorney’s office.
“The funding that you gave us in 2017, allowed us to fund three of the five new positions in our department,” said John McCarthy, Montgomery County’s state attorney. “I can not explain to you have much we have gleamed and progressed by virtue of the funding.”
McCarthy also brought out how results in previous years were skewed due to how they used to identify gang violence.
“The way we validated gang members that past six or seven years has changed,” said McCarthy. “We used to validate on a single criteria including self-admission, but now there is federal criteria which prevent that.”
Some of the new ways they do this is by tracking five types of gang crimes: Homicides, rapes, robberies, assaults, and weapon offenses.
MCP Chief Marcus Jones further explained the inconsistencies.
“One of the things that is important is when we talk about whether we have gang-related homicides or gang-affiliated homicides,” said Jones.
All the committee chairs showed their support to those in attendance and those who continue to fight.
“I have always been proud of the way that we have always been upfront on this issue and haven’t shied away because we understand that we are here to have frank conversations and find solutions,” said committee member Nancy Navarro.
“This has been going on for years. We need to keep each other informed and remain certain that each of us is safe for ourselves and our neighbors,” said Committee member Sidney Katz.
“What incredible work our nonprofit sector, our Health and Human Services division and the army of volunteers do going out once a year to conduct this critically important count that serves as policy baselines,” said Gabe Albornoz, the committee chair.
“This is an issue that I’m quite familiar with — going back to my days working with the nonprofits sector, helping to initiate the gang prevention partnership in Prince George’s county.
“I know how complex this issue is. As a result of our failed federal immigration system, world turbulence, and economic unrest, there is only so much the county can control regarding the gang issue. But I am proud of what has transpired over the past couple of years, and our county has set the tone for other jurisdictions to follow.”
They track five types of gang crimes: Homicides, rapes, robberies, assaults and weapon offenses.