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Committee On Gangs Considered

'Summit' Stresses Need For Regional Approach

By David Cho
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 7, 2004; Page VA03

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is considering establishing a regional anti-gang committee and a list of recommended spending priorities for jurisdictions fighting gang violence.

The proposals emerged from the first Regional Gang Summit, attended by more than 500 local, state and federal officials from the Washington area last week in Crystal City, organizers said.

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"In a greater sense, this is not a jurisdictional issue -- it's a regional issue," said Calvin Smith, director of human services planning and public safety for the Council of Governments (COG). "One of the things that was immediately identified by the police chiefs is the mobility of gangs, that an incident can happen in Fairfax and in 15 minutes the perpetrator can be in Maryland."

The conference drew more participants than expected. Also noteworthy was the range of public service areas represented. There were police officers, social workers, schoolteachers, pastors, elected officials, probation officers and civic leaders of immigrant communities.

"We looked at gang activity from an enforcement standpoint, but we also looked at it from a prevention and intervention standpoint," Smith said. "Globally, with this issue there are a lot of moving parts."

The day after the Sept. 29 summit -- at the suggestion of U.S. Justice Department officials -- about 30 elected officials, police chiefs and a few others met in a closed session to review comments made by the summit's participants and to whittle down hundreds of suggestions into a few spending priorities.

"No one jurisdiction is fully equipped to meet the challenge alone," said Deborah J. Daniels, an assistant attorney general, who organized the second-day session. "We need to cooperate across disciplines, as well as across geographic boundaries to establish an effective response."

High on the list discussed last Thursday was funding a jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction assessment of gang violence.

Too often, said Fairfax Supervisor Penelope A. Gross (D-Mason), an organizer of the summit, "we operate anecdotally instead of having the data that needs to be collected."

Other top priorities were to establish programs that reach out to the parents of gang members, assist youths who have left gang life and beef up enforcement of gun laws, organizers said.

Gross said most of the summit's organizers realized there has to be better information sharing among jurisdictions and concluded that COG would be the best agency to handle that.

Smith said the recommendation for a new gang committee and the list of spending priorities could become final by Oct. 13, the next meeting of COG's board of directors.


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