ROCKVILLE, MD -- The Montgomery County Council unanimously approved over $843,000 in additional funding to local law enforcement on Tuesday in an effort to combat a spike in gang violence in the county.
"If you’re in a gang, you probably need to move along, because this is not going to be a safe haven for you," said Montgomery County Assistant Police Chief Russ Hamill following the vote.
Law enforcement officials said at the hearing that in the past two years, there have been 20 murders linked to gang activity.
"You can’t get lost in saying, 'Oh, 20 murders'. That’s 20 families, 20 communities that are very adversely affected by those," added Hamill.
$596,920 will go to the Montgomery County Police Department and the money will fund six additional positions: a sergeant, three detectives, and two civilian gang analysts. The department plans to restructure its Central Street Gang Unit and an analysis by county staff said:
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.
$246,773 will go to the State's Attorney's Office (SAO) and fund the hiring of three Assistant State's Attorneys and one Senior Legal Assistant. A representative from the SAO said the latter will, among other tasks, monitor gang activity online.
Councilmembers said, while they support the additional funding for enforcement, they also want to see more programs that deal with prevention and intervention, stopping kids from joining gangs in the first place or getting those are in them, out.
"We have families that are living at siege," said District 2 Councilmember Craig Rice. "That really feel as though their children can’t walk safely to and from schools. We have programs at Montgomery Village where high school students are volunteering to walk elementary school students home in the afternoons to ensure that they get home safe and aren’t intimidated by gangs that are trying to recruit them or sell them drugs."
At-large Councilmember and chair of the Public Safety Committee Marc Elrich said he plans to hold meetings in the future with non-profit groups who work on prevention and intervention.