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Cop gives lawmakers the dope on gangs

January 26, 2007|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS - Hagerstown Police Department Detective Todd Dunkle introduced a Maryland House committee to gang life Thursday while testifying in favor of a proposed racketeering-style gang bill.

He showed pictures of what he described as gang clothing, hand signs, graffiti and tattoos. He got delegates' attention with grisly photos of gang-related slash wounds, including a groove dug into a police officer's back with a razor blade.

Known for his Washington County presentations peeling back the cover of gangs, Dunkle was a star witness Thursday during a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

The committee is considering a bill to give authorities more power to prosecute gang activity. The bill expands the definitions of gangs and lets money and property traceable to gang activity be seized.

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It also broadly allows authorities to charge people for crimes they might not have committed but were aware of and connected to through their gang affiliations. That approach was compared Thursday to the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) that has been used to crack down on Mafia crime.

The Maryland State's Attorneys' Association drafted the bill. Jeffrey T. Wennar, an assistant state's attorney in Montgomery County, said it would be "a tool" to help them.

"I'm all for it," Dunkle said afterward. "Anything that furthers our efforts is a good thing."

In an interview before the hearing, Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler, who also testified, said places like Hagerstown might be slow to realize the extent of gang activity.

He said Washington County is a prime haven for gangs because it's along Interstate 81 and because of people released from the county's three state prisons.

Dunkle said Washington County is well aware of its gang problem.

His presentation to the committee included pictures he took of people in Hagerstown - a man in all red wearing a backwards cap and a man in a camouflage jacket over a red jersey.

"It was like they must have had a red sale at JCPenney," he said.

A few delegates challenged Dunkle for taking pictures of people just because of what they're wearing, but the detective said clothing was only one element in each person's profile.

He said the red indicates a possible affiliation with the Bloods gang, but other telltale signs strengthen the connection, such as a tattoo reading "Smile now, cry later."

The graphic gang-related pictures included deep razor carvings on a police officer's back and a bloody gash on a man's face. The gash, Dunkle said, was an example of a "buck fifty," a gang nickname for a wound that requires at least 150 stitches to close.

In response to a question from Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, Dunkle said he has a good relationship with the state Division of Correction, which shares plenty of information about gang members as they are released from prison.

Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, suggested that the state's failure to release prisoners from a central point, such as Baltimore City, allows gang members from outside the area to migrate to stay local after getting out of Western Maryland's prisons.

Referring to the central release point, Dunkle said, "I believe it would reduce (the number of gang members), but not by a significant amount."

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