Anti-gang funds won't flood Montgomery, Pr. George's border

By Dan Morse and Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 27, 2009

To local members of Congress, it was a big deal: More than $2 million secured this month to go after gangs that straddle the border between Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Trouble is, the counties were hoping for a lot more, fighting gangs isn't cheap and no one on the ground knows exactly how the money will be carved up.

"It is going to be a bit of a scrum," said John McCarthy, Montgomery's top prosecutor, whose office handles about 500 cases involving gang members annually and requested $260,000 for two more prosecutors.

Like others, he was quick to offer hearty thanks for anything in these tight times. McCarthy faces budget pressures that have him trying to cut $700,000 for the coming year.

The problem in the two counties is clear: Gang members in eastern Montgomery and western Prince George's don't exactly recognize the border. In January, a 15-year-old from Prince George's was dragged into a car at a Langley Park bus stop near the border, taken into Montgomery, stabbed 72 times and dumped in a creek. Members or affiliates of the 18th Street gang from both counties were arrested in his killing.

"The worst gang crime in Montgomery this year," McCarthy said of the slaying.

Officials from the two counties initially asked for $4.6 million, intending to create a task force similar to a successful one in Northern Virginia. Two weeks ago, they learned that they'd get $2.7 million. Of that, each county will get a little more than $1.3 million, with $150,000 going to the University of Maryland for administrative costs, and possibly to house a task force of officers, according to county officials.

In Prince George's, Police Chief Roberto L. Hylton said his department will delegate how the $1.3 million is spent. He wants social services agencies to get some to curb gang recruitment and improve youth literacy. He also wants money for police overtime.

"We'll use a number of strategies," Hylton said.

Had Prince George's received the full request, officials planned to give $200,000 to a youth center, $100,000 to the police youth athletic league, and $200,000 to "safe houses" to provide lodging for teens who want to leave gangs and be away from other members unhappy with their decision. Those earmarks might be curbed or eliminated.

"As far as really getting into the specifics, it's hard to say right now," said John Erzen, a Prince George's spokesman.

Still, if the success of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Enforcement Task Force is any indication, the Montgomery-Prince George's effort should be able to get things done on the pared-down funding. One big key: annual funding.

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