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Legislators hear gang talk at Quad-State conference

August 15, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WINCHESTER, Va. -- Lawmakers combined two prominent topics - immigration and gang violence - on Thursday during their annual Quad-State Legislative Conference.

Once a year, elected officials from Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia gather to explore topics their states have in common.

On Thursday in Winchester, they heard from several people in law enforcement and from people with insight into immigration issues.

Ryan Shifflet of the Washington County Sheriff's Department and Todd Dunkle of the Hagerstown Police Department described the extent of Washington County's gangs, which they investigate.

"There's a real big push in Washington County with the Bloods," the county's most prevalent gang, Dunkle said.

In the last few months, he said, authorities have seen what he called "peacocking," or unabashed displays of red, the gang's signature color.

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Next after the Bloods is an emerging gang called Dead Man Incorporated, or DMI, Shifflet said.

Shifflet said the gang had three members when it started in Maryland in 1999. It now has between 300 and 500 members in several states, he said.

A PowerPoint page that the officers showed legislators said DMI is predominantly white and very violent.

Dunkle introduced two terms to the lawmakers - "breeding," the recruitment of children as young as 12 or 13 years old, and "jumping in," initiating a new gang member by having several people attack him, usually for less than a minute.

The PowerPoint presentation included pictures of tattoos distinctive to certain gangs. It also showed gang images that members post online at social networking sites, such as MySpace.

West Virginia State Police 1st Sgt. Eric Burnett said he only knew of a few sightings of MS-13, a Latino gang, in the Eastern Panhandle.

He said that last week, he saw a car that had "MS-13" spray painted on it.

The other time was about three years ago, when police heard that gang members had gathered for a meeting near the Shenandoah River.

Burnett said about 100 gang members were there. Police arrested about 20, and others scattered, he said.

Part of Thursday's program focused on how U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement finds illegal immigrants and deports them, but also ways government can reach and help other immigrants.

Jeremiah D. Zook, an assistant district attorney in Franklin County, Pa., said his office tried to reach crime victims who might have been afraid to talk to police because of their immigration status.

Six public meetings were scheduled. Pamphlets were circulated and ads were printed in a Latino newspaper. Spanish translators were going to be there.

But the program didn't work as hoped.

"No one came," Zook said.

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