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Gang-control laws considered

May 22, 2007|by DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.VA. - Charles Town officials said Monday they are working on new laws to control criminal street gangs in the city to help prevent the groups from extending their reach from nearby states.

Local police in past years have been preparing for MS-13 gangs, which have been operating in Northern Virginia, police said.

Local police said Monday there has been some gang-related graffiti in the Charles Town area but they do not believe gangs are a significant problem in the area yet.

To help prevent gang-related violence locally, Charles Town Police Department officials are proposing to adopt gang-violence laws similar to those passed in Northern Virginia, Sgt. Jim Knott said.

But unlike Northern Virginia regulations, the Charles Town Police Department is proposing to make street-gang violations misdemeanors, Knott said.

Charles Town cannot make gang law violations felonies because that would involve state and local resources that are not available, Knott said.

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Knott said details of the penalties for a misdemeanor violation are being worked out.

In 2005, local police attended a daylong seminar at a West Virginia Air National Guard base south of Martinsburg to learn about the MS-13 gang.

MS-13 members have been identified in murders and assaults, and are believed to be violent "just for the sake of being violent," police said at the time.

MS-13 gangs are well-organized and members often are divided into different levels, police said. Gang members at the top level take on duties to financially support the group and below that are "territory" members, who make up local cliques of the group, police said.

Police say young people are easily attracted to the groups because of money offered to them from the gangs.

The gangs often use graffiti to mark their presence in a community and MS-13 members have been seen at Charles Town Races & Slots, police have said.

Knott said there has been some graffiti on the former Whitmore Lumber Co. building on North Mildred Street but it is unclear if it is gang-related, Knott said.

Some graffiti also has been found at Evitt's Run Park along Water Street, which might have been gang-related, Knott said.

Knott said "little things pop up" regarding possible gang activity, but there does not seem to be a serious problem with gangs in town.

"I think they're just building up their resources," Knott said.

Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober said Monday that there has been gang-related graffiti on the rear of store buildings in the Charles Town Plaza along U.S. 340.

But Boober also said he does not think there is a serious problem with gangs in the area.

Boober said he is glad Charles Town is considering drafting gang laws and said it is something the Jefferson County Commission should consider.

"It's a good move because it sends a message. If we wait and see, it's almost impossible to rid ourselves of the problems," Boober said.

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