Police say gang population is increasing in the county

November 01, 2005|by PEPPER BALLARD


When gang members are released from Maryland prisons, many of them chose to make Hagerstown their home, Hagerstown Police Department Street Crimes Unit Detective Todd Dunkle said.

What concerns Dunkle, also the Western region director for MARGIN (Mid-Atlantic Region Gang Investigators Network), is that gangs, which are prevalent in prisons, are becoming more common here.

Police have identified members of a variety of gangs living in Washington County. The Bloods are the most predominant, Dunkle said, but others are filtering in, some in small numbers.


Gang crime - such as crime committed on behalf of a gang, by a gang member upon a rival gang member or an initiation-type crime - is not common, said Hagerstown Police Department Capt. Charles Summers, the department's acting chief.

"That does not mean that we will wait until those crimes are committed," Summers said.

The crimes police are seeing from gang members are related to drugs, he said.

Police are working to get information about the gangs that are in the area, Summers said.

Dunkle said gang members "are being identified slowly. The biggest weapon gangs have is anonymity."

What's in a name?

By definition, "a street gang" is made of members who must commit crimes to maintain their membership, Dunkle said. New members are accepted into a gang in different ways, he said. To get into a gang, one must commit a significant criminal act or gangs sometimes literally beat a new member as an initiation, he said. A new member might be brought in because the potential member has an asset desired by the gang, like a drug connection, he said. Typically, that member will eventually "be made to do something of worth," like commit a crime, Dunkle said.

"Every street gang member is a criminal," he said.

The county's most-represented gang, with about 200 members and associates, is the Bloods, a gang with ties to New York whose members are predominantly black and wear red and black clothing. Members generally "represent" to the right side of their body, which could mean they wear their pants leg rolled up on that side, Dunkle said.

The Crips is the second-most-prevalent gang in Hagers-town, with about 100 members and associates. They also are a predominantly black gang with ties to New York whose members wear black and blue and "represent" to the left side of their body, Dunkle said.

There are a few members of The Latin Kings, a predominantly Puerto Rican gang out of New York and Chicago whose members usually wear gold, yellow and/or black, Dunkle said. Police also are aware of a few members of The Gangster Disciples, whose members in the area are not of any particular ethnicity and commonly wear black or blue, he said.

The colors gang members use to identify themselves "could be something very subtle," he said.

There also are a handful of members of MS-13, a violent Salvadoran gang that has strong ties to Virginia cities, most notably Fairfax, Dunkle said. MS-13 members generally have "a lot of tattooing" and wear light blue, he said.

Police know there are a few members of the 18th Street Gang and Vatos Locos in the area because of distinguishing graffiti, Dunkle said, but there are no confirmed members.

Staying informed

Dunkle said keeping informed about gangs and their lifestyles will help combat potential problems. He speaks to local groups about what impact gangs have in the community.

Sheriff Charles Mades said police have valuable resources, like members of the Department of Parole and Probation, the Washington County Detention Center and Washington County Public Schools, who tell them of potential issues.

Police rely on community residents to help notify them of suspicious activity that might be gang-related. If police receive information that a particular gang might be getting together, for example, they try to infiltrate those meetings, Summers said.

"As we start to see things happening, we can make the connections between the gangs" and what crimes are being committed, he said.

Maryland State Police Lt. Greg Johnston, commander of the Hagerstown barrack, said investigators and detectives from the county's law enforcement agencies meet routinely to discuss gangs.

"We need to do something about it now," Dunkle said. "At least we can make them aware we know they're here."

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