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Police, schools take on gangs

March 24, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

WASHINGTON COUNTY

Police and Washington County Public Schools officials said Thursday that the county's teens don't have many extracurricular options to keep them from getting into trouble or joining gangs.

That is why they have teamed up to find money for more after-school and community outreach programs.

"We have to provide opportunities for kids to do positive things," said Robert T. "Bo" Myers, the school system's executive director for secondary school administration.

Myers, Hagerstown Police Department Chief Arthur Smith and Sheriff's Department Col. Doug Mullendore are all members of The Washington County Gang Prevention Task Force, which was formed last summer and has about 35 members, including citizens and representatives of agencies such as the Maryland Division of Correction and The Boys & Girls Club.

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Smith said gangs - predominantly The United Blood Nation - have been in Hagerstown for about 20 years, but more gangs have since moved in and even more are moving closer to the area, especially the violent MS-13.

Smith explained the issue like this: "We have two choices, we can stick our heads in the sand or do something before it gets bad."

He said, "We're trying to make the community a harder target ... We see it coming."

Mullendore, chairman of the task force, said the more money the county puts into preventing gangs, the more money the county will save in the long run. It costs more to lock up a gang member than to prevent one from being created, he said.

Mullendore said that in a federal grant application through the U.S. Attorney's Office submitted Thursday on behalf of the task force, the Sheriff's Department and the school system have asked for $91,500 to keep some schools open later for the purposes of supervised activities, field trips and tutoring sessions.

Myers said that about 20 years ago, schools were open later for those purposes, but because of funding issues, those programs were cut.

Smith said applications are in the works for a grant that would give Hagerstown money to hire a Gang Prevention Task Force coordinator. He said CSAFE and the City of Hagerstown are also applying for a grant that would provide more money for enforcement and community outreach programs.

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