Virginia Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) yesterday created a "strike force" of 12 state police officers to work with local authorities in gang trouble areas and also proposed adding three prosecutors in Northern Virginia to focus on gang-related cases.
Flanked by local prosecutors, police chiefs and other officials outside the Herndon Municipal Center, Warner said two recent incidents of gang violence have served as "tragic reminders of the prevalence of youth gangs across Northern Virginia." On May 10, a Fairfax County teenager's hands were nearly severed in a gang-related machete attack, and six days later, a Herndon youth was fatally shot by an assailant believed to be gang member.
Warner also said state prison officials will begin identifying and tracking gang members who are behind bars. Prison officials then will share intelligence with police.
"I wish we could say there was going to be a single silver bullet to stop gang activity," Warner said. "Despite our best efforts, it's clear more must be done. We must do everything we can to prevent gangs from forming, to combat them when they do and to put their leaders in jail."
Warner said he will propose budget amendments when the General Assembly reconvenes June 16. He will seek $300,000 to fund the state police strike force and $400,000 to create the prosecutor positions. He could deploy the troopers even without the money and said the strike force will be operational by June 1.
Warner is the latest public official in recent days to decry gang violence in Virginia and stress the need for increased enforcement and prevention. Last week, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), who also attended yesterday's news conference, said an additional $350,000 in Justice Department funds will go to a task force of Northern Virginia gang investigators. The money will be used to fund gang prevention programs in schools.
Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore (R), who has been hosting a series of community meetings on gang violence, last week proposed creating "gang-free school zones," providing heightened penalties for gang-related crimes in or near schools. He said he will seek increased funding for a multi-jurisdictional computer database to help police track gang members and their crimes.
Yesterday's announcement came as police in Herndon and Fairfax County said detectives are pursuing leads in the recent cases. The machete attack and the shooting are believed to have stemmed from disputes between gangs, police said.
Fairfax police said the 16-year-old victim of the machete attack is a member of Southside Locos, a new and growing street gang. Police said his alleged assailant, Hayner R. Flores, 18, is a member of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, Northern Virginia's largest and most violent gang. Flores is charged with malicious wounding and gang participation, and investigators are searching for other suspects, police said.
Herndon Police Chief Toussaint E. Summers Jr. said his detectives will "leave no stone unturned" in their search for the person who gunned down 17-year-old Jose Sandoval on May 16. Police sources said the assailant had an MS-13 tattoo on his forehead, and they believe Sandoval may have been a member of a gang called 18th Street. A 16-year-old girl was wounded in the attack and is recovering, police said.
Warner pointed to the shooting as an example of a case in which the state police strike force could have been called in to help. The team can assist local police at gang "hot spots," Warner said, or be deployed to rural areas that have fewer resources to target gang crime.
Loudoun County Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson said he welcomes any extra help in fighting the county's small but growing gang problem. MS-13 members have been linked to stabbings and property crimes.
"This is a regional problem, and we can only gain by having additional resources and additional eyes and ears," Simpson said. "There have always been more of them than there are of us."
If the prosecutor positions are approved, it will be left up to Northern Virginia's commonwealth's attorneys to decide where the lawyers will work, state officials said. The prosecutors would work across jurisdictional lines.
Alexandria Commonwealth's Attorney S. Randolph Sengel said that one assistant in his office already devotes much of his time to gang prosecutions and that Northern Virginia's prosecutors would be grateful for the help. "Three prosecutors is good news, so hopefully it will come through," he said.