WASHINGTON – Montgomery and Prince George’s counties will receive more than $2 million in federal funding to support anti-gang initiatives, members of the Maryland congressional delegation announced Thursday.
The money will go to the counties’ Joint Gang Suppression and Prevention Initiative, formed by a task force begun by the county executives in February 2004 to combat the growing gang problem in the two counties.
“We saw over the summer a rash of gang violence in Maryland,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, at a Thursday news conference called by members of the Virginia and Maryland delegations. “If we don’t stop this problem now, we’re going to see a growing problem.”
In June, a man was beaten and stabbed in Gaithersburg in a gang-connected incident, and in August, six teenagers were stabbed in gang fights at Springbrook High School and a Target in Wheaton.
The $2.4 million that will go to Maryland is included in the conference report of the Science, State, Justice, Commerce Appropriations bill. Virginia will receive about $3 million from the bill, which passed the House Wednesday.
The Senate will take action on the bill by Tuesday, said Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.
“We in the Maryland delegation have a united front,” Mikulski said at the news conference, and praised the bipartisan, bicameral effort between Maryland and Virginia to obtain the funding.
The Joint Gang Initiative between Montgomery and Prince George’s includes programs to support prevention, suppression and intervention of gangs, said Luis Cardona, the youth violence prevention coordinator in Montgomery’s Department of Health and Human Services.
The federal money will help fund county police gang units, after-school programs, mentoring programs, safe-haven shelters and other educational programs.
There are more than 3,000 gang members and 60 gangs in the Washington metropolitan region, Mikulski said.
The Latino gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, has received a lot of media attention for its growing violent presence in Northern Virginia and Maryland, but there are other gangs from other segments of the population that shouldn’t be ignored, Cardona said.
Immigration reform is used to some extent as a red herring in fighting the gang problem, said Rep. Albert Wynn, D-Largo, in response to a reporter’s question, because many legal immigrants are being alienated and finding their way into gangs that take the place of a family. The cultural issues in the community need to be addressed, he said.
Much of the federal money will be used in a community setting to intercept the problem, Wynn said, because gangs are easy to get into and hard to get out of.
Law enforcement alone cannot fix the gang problem, Cardona said, and prevention programs are an important tool.
The counties are working to improve coordination between the different segments of government, community organizations and schools to ensure their efforts are not fragmented, Cardona said.
The bill also includes millions of dollars in funding for anti-gang activities nationwide, said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., adding that there are about 800,000 gang members in the United States from all different backgrounds.