Montgomery County unveils new anti-gang initiatives

Dr. Jack Smith (seated left), Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent, and John McCarthy, Montgomery County State's Attorney, sign a new memorandum of understanding as other county leaders look on.

ROCKVILLE, MD — Montgomery County law enforcement, government, and school officials unveiled their new plans to tackle the rising gang problem in the county at a joint news conference on Tuesday.

“New strategies are called for, new approaches are called for, when you see this, and I think what we’re doing here today, is trying to respond to what our recent changes in trends particularly in the homicide rate over the last two years,” said Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy, referring to the 20 gang-related murders in the past two years in the county.

Earlier this October, the Montgomery County Council allocated over $843,000 in extra funding for the the police department and state’s attorney’s office (SAO) to assist in anti-gang initiatives.

“There is no place for them in Montgomery County,” said Council President Roger Berliner.

For police, $596,920 will fund six additional positions: a sergeant, three detectives, and two civilian gang analysts and the department will restructure its Central Street Gang Unit.

Police Chief Tom Manger said the detectives will work in the four areas of the county that see the most gang activity: Germantown, Gaithersburg, Wheaton, and Silver Spring.

“I think what you’re going to see is a decline in the gang violence. I think you’re going to see more arrests of people that are committing crime,” added Manger.

The civilian analysts will work with the new hires in the SAO. It received $246,773 in additional funding to hire three Assistant State’s Attorneys and one Senior Legal Assistant.

The new chief of the SAO’s Gang Division, Patrick Mays, said they will work on building cases against gang leadership and bringing charges against them before they are involved in more serious crimes.

“Targeting specific individuals who we know to be…recruiting gang members in our community and ordering violent crime, and the priority is to work to build those investigations to take those individuals out before we’re dealing in the aftermath,” added Mays.

But beyond suppression efforts like those to be implemented by this additional funding, the county also wants to roll out prevention initiatives.

“We need to cut off the supply of gang members and there’s no better place to address this, than to address this in the schools,” said At-Large Councilmember and chair of the Montgomery County Council Public Safety Committee Marc Elrich.

The police department and SAO signed a new memorandum of understanding with Montgomery County Public Schools that adds new policies and procedures to deal with gang activity and recruitment in the schools.

Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith said one part is educating teachers on how to spot signs that students might be in, or close to joining, a gang.

“And then the other part would be if students do get involved in these, hopefully intervening and pulling them back and giving them a really good alternative through both school and after school and community programs,” added Dr. Smith.

Elrich added he also wants to incorporate community groups and non-profits into the prevention efforts and plans to hold a public hearing in the next few weeks to discuss proposals.