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Live chat with the Washington County Gang Task Force

July 11, 2006

The Washington County Gang Task Forcewill be our Live Chat guests today starting at 1:00 pm and ending at 2:00 pm. Questions or comments can be submitted by clicking here before and during the chat. Or send an email to: onlinechat@herald-mail.com




Moderator: Today we're chatting with members of the Washington County Gang Prevention Task Force. They include: Cheryl Mitchell-Jones, Washington County Board of Education, Ryan Shifflet, Washington County Sheriff's Department, Todd Dunkle of the Hagerstown Police Department, and Arthur Smith, Chief of the Hagerstown Police Department.

Question: Could you discuss, realistically, the threat that gangs CURRENTLY pose to citizens of Hagerstown? Is this a real problem, or a method for the city to get more money at the state or federal level? Would you also discuss how to properly identify a gang member (Blood, MS13, etc) or gang activity? Finally, is it your opinion that gang activity is attributed in any way to the close proximity of the prisons in the county?

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Committee Response: Currently the threat to the average citizen is very low. The reason that the Gang Prevention Task Force was formed is to keep it that way. There are gang members in Washington County. This is documented in numerous ways. They do commit crimes--primarily narcotics distribution, and experience around the country has proven the best strategy is a prevention strategy and not to wait for major gang violence to occur. A member is most likely identiifed by a combination of color of clothing, peer associates, tattoos, and grafitti.

The prisons play a significant role in that many of our narcotics violators adopt or renew gang affiliations as a survival strategy inside the institution. They may or may not continue gang affiliations and activity when released into the community. Washington County is the Number 2 release point for identified gang members back into the community from the department of corrections, only second to Baltimore and Baltimore County.

Educational presentations are available for identification of possible gang activity through Hagerstown Police and Washington County Sheriff's Department.

Grants are available from time to time from the federal and state governments for gang education, prevention, and suppression.




Question: How many documented cases of gang violence have there been in the last 3 years?

Committee: No "documented" gang-related violence for the past three years in Washington County. Police departments are taking steps to develop a classification system under the umbrella of the Gang Prevention Task Force . There have been instances of violence between known drug dealers with gang affiliation, however, gang activity could not be documented as a cause of the crime. Instances of gang-related violence have taken place in other jurisdictions in our region. Our answer does not include activity inside the department of corrections in Washington County.




Question: What areas are these gangs in, so I know what area to look for gang activites? I'm new to the area.

Committee: Gang members clearly travel as they wish. Examples of documented activity include state parks, shopping centers, and virtually any area in which people may congregate. The important thing to look for is the distinctive clothing, tattoos, mannerisms, and grafitti. Contact either Officer Dunkle or Deputy Shifflet for information on the next public educational presentation. Contact information will be printed at the end of this chat.




Question: Is there anything being done to combat the probability that convicted criminals released from prison have less effect on the community? Is there some sort of program within the prisons to discourage criminals from joining or rejoining gangs either in prison, or after their release?

Committee: This is a good question, but is better answered by Department of Corrections and Parole and Probation. Both institutions are very cooperative in terms of sharing gang information with law enforcement. Specific prevention programs are not well-known to this group.




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