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Va.'s Gang Task Forces Overlap

4 Groups Fund Similar Programs Without Adding Any Police Detectives

By David Cho
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 2, 2004; Page B01

Second of two articles

A recent infusion of money and task forces to combat the growing gang problem has resulted in redundant prevention efforts, turf battles and no new officers on the street in Northern Virginia.

A review of the budgets and objectives of the four major task forces serving the region, along with interviews with gang investigators, showed that even as the number of gang-related incidents has risen, none of the new initiatives has added frontline detectives, who are considered a linchpin of gang intelligence-gathering and suppression.

Paul J. McNulty, U.S. attorney in Alexandria, speaks at a May news conference about ways to combat the rise of youth gangs in the Northern Virginia region. (Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)

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Proponents of the task forces say it was not their mission to add manpower, but that is what gang detectives say they need the most from their elected leaders.

In Fairfax County alone, supervisors of the police gang investigation unit report that the number of cases jumped over the past two years from 45 incidents a month to 125. During that time, the division lost a member because he was loaned to a forming task force.

"You talk about all these councils and task forces. . . . In my opinion, it's just a bunch of lip service," said Lt. Chip Hudson, a supervisor of the Fairfax police gang unit. "We haven't seen anything . . . no manpower, no equipment, nothing."

Instead, the four task forces, whose budgets total $3.5 million, have allocated much of their funds to establish programs that are similar for the same jurisdictions.

Task forces on state, regional and local levels all are producing anti-gang educational materials that will be sent to the same schoolchildren in Northern Virginia. At least three groups are independently developing after-school programs to keep students away from gang recruiters.

Both the "strike force" initiated by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) and the task force founded by Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R) are hiring special gang prosecutors to assist commonwealth's attorneys.

The leaders of the task forces say their efforts represent an early reaction to the region's increasing gang problem and that coordination among the groups will evolve eventually.

"Looking at it from the outside, I know it can look like there's overlap," Kilgore said. "But it's important that we all work together so that we are spending these tax dollars in the most efficient way."

The frustration of local gang detectives illustrates the difficulty governments face in uprooting the gang culture that has become entrenched in the Washington suburbs. Not only are the solutions expensive and complex, but the gangs, unlike state and local governments, know no jurisdictional boundaries.

Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D) said there has been little communication between his office and Kilgore's on anti-gang efforts. Last month, Connolly pressed forward with a "coordinating council" in Fairfax that plans to stanch gang recruitment by establishing after-school activities, among other programs. It was a fulfillment of a promise from his campaign last summer, he said.

But Connolly did not know that two other task forces, including Kilgore's, were trying to do the same thing in the area.

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