Gang Intelligence Center's Size Belies Its Mission
Friday, December 26, 2008
Their headquarters is little more than a spare room at the local power company: The officers' four desks occupy almost half the available space. Jeans, sweaters and tennis shoes are the dress code, and the sergeant in command wears a backward baseball cap to disguise a bad hair day.
It's not a glamorous operation, but this is the epicenter of Southern Maryland's attempt to deal with an emerging gang presence in the region.
"The impressive information center," says Maryland State Police Sgt. Shane Bolger, gesturing across the room just bigger than a college dorm's. "This is basically it."
He's only half kidding. Bolger's Southern Maryland Information Center might not look impressive, but the results speak for themselves, officials said.
The first of its kind in the state, the center was formed last year to share crime information among the three sheriff's offices and three state police barracks in Southern Maryland. It also has become the region's gang intelligence center, keeping tabs on what some officials say is a major concern in the fast-growing area.
"The budding gang problem in Southern Maryland is an issue," said State Police Lt. Greg Cameron, who oversees the three information-sharing centers in Maryland. "Southern Maryland is starting to see an increase in gang activity."
The center is funded with $50,000 in state funds, Cameron said. The plainclothes officers who work there -- two state troopers and a detective from each of the three local sheriff's offices -- are paid out of their department's budgets. The Charles County Sheriff's Office lets the center use its crime analyst, and the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative provides the office space rent-free.
In some respects, the effort seems quite small. Officials at the center estimate there are about 380 gang members in Southern Maryland, and identifying and interviewing them is only half of the detectives' jobs. (Their main objective is spotting regional crime trends, making sure police in Calvert County, for example, know which criminals from St. Mary's might cross the border.)
But officials at the center are hesitant to say they need more resources, and they are quick to note that the "gang problem" in Southern Maryland is in its infancy. Urban counties such as Prince George's, by comparison, have thousands of gang members, officials say.
"It is and it isn't a problem," Bolger said. "But they are here."
And that is a change from as recently as a few years ago, said Detective Jon Burroughs, who analyzes gangs in Charles for the center.
"Three years ago, if you tried to identify a gang member in Charles County, most people would laugh you out the door," he said.