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Police describe gangs in Franklin County

March 04, 2006|By JENNIFER FITCH

WAYNESBORO, PA.

Gangs are here, active and dangerous, but alert and educated residents supporting local law enforcement are the best deterrent.

The message of three police officers at a gang awareness luncheon on Friday included frank talk, actual photographs and grim anecdotes.

The officers said they did not want to scare the 115 people in attendance, but to create what one detective called a room full of snitches.

"Make a call; let us know what's going on. We cannot allow them to go unnoticed. Take away their anonymity. That's one of their biggest weapons," said Detective Todd Dunkle of the Hagerstown Police Department.

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Dunkle and Troopers Ed Asbury and Angel Garcia from the Pennsylvania State Police described the activities of gangs in Franklin County, Pa., and specifically highlighted the presence of MS-13.

MS-13 or "Mara Salvatrucha" originated in El Salvador as the result of a civil war. Led by Ernesto Miranda, the group developed a hierarchy "kind of like a terrorist group," said Garcia.

He described MS-13 as "probably one of the most dangerous gangs in America."

And what Dunkle suspects is territory graffiti for MS-13 was sprayed on a downtown Waynesboro house just this week.

"Folks, these people are fearless. If they'd kill their own father, what would they do to you?" Garcia asked.

He showed the crowd of judges, legislators, residents, probation officers and school officials the tattoos and graffiti symbols associated with MS-13.

Dunkle asked the luncheon attendees to be extra eyes for their local police officers.

Garcia detailed the ways gangs recruit members and said 95 percent of hard-core members are high school dropouts.

"People join gangs because they're isolated," said Jon Bilbo, principal of Waynesboro Area Senior High School.

The students are encouraged to join school activities and practice methods of de-escalating tense situations, he said.

Bilbo said threats and suspicious symbols have been found in school bathrooms in the past, and the administration has notified local police.

"We've got a very good relationship with the Waynesboro Police Department," said Bilbo.

The 33,000 known gangs in this nation have three or more members with a hierarchy and territory, according to Asbury.

What sets them apart from the Elks Club or Boy Scouts, he said, is the criminal activity they employ to further their social or economic status.

Often, the criminal element comes from a group Asbury identified as "wannabes" because they will do anything to be accepted by the gang.

"It's a place to be somebody," said Asbury.

Gang leaders promise love and respect to young people. The gang teaches them honor, obedience and a willingness to sacrifice themselves for goals, but these character traits are woven into a criminal lifestyle, said Garcia.

Dunkle reminded the crowd that it's not illegal to belong to a gang, but drugs, violence, theft and even computer crimes become a part of that world.

Asbury related the luncheon, which was sponsored by six organizations, to Paul Revere's warnings in the 1700s.

"My actions are the same: to warn that trouble is near, trouble is near," said Asbury.

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