Officials from Prince George's and Montgomery counties yesterday released a report estimating that at least 70 criminal gangs are operating in the two jurisdictions and laying out more than a dozen recommendations for dealing with them.
Seven months after a group of police officers, social workers, educators, human services officials and community leaders was appointed to develop approaches to stem a growing gang problem, county executives Jack B. Johnson (D) of Prince George's and Douglas M. Duncan (D) of Montgomery announced the findings of the Joint County Gang Prevention Task Force.
Some of the task force's recommendations, such as an assessment of school safety, would require little or no money. Others, such as establishment of a "youth opportunity center" in the Langley Park area, which straddles the border between the two counties, would require funding.
At a news conference at a Prince George's police substation in Langley Park, Johnson and Duncan pledged to come up with money and other resources to follow through on the recommendations.
"I've looked at the recommendations, and I support each and every one of them," Johnson said. "Recommendations without resources equals zero."
He said that the report outlines the importance of "prevention, intervention and suppression" and that he wants to counteract recruiting efforts of some gangs with "education and opportunity."
"We've got to do everything we can to prevent young people from joining gangs in the first place," he said.
Duncan said he was especially excited about the proposal to create a youth opportunity center.
He said he believed that a site could be found and funds could be procured quickly enough that the center could be open within a few months.
Duncan and Johnson said the task force's steering committee, which includes law enforcement and social services officials from both counties, will remain intact and continue to work on approaches to combating gangs.
The two county executives announced the formation of the task force of 37 members in February. Panel members held a series of town hall-style forums to hear what youths, parents, educators and other community members had to say about gangs.
The task force was a response to what law enforcement officials have described as the steady spread of violent, well-structured gangs in the Washington area. Some gangs are recruiting members in Maryland, Northern Virginia and the District. One large Latino gang, MS-13, made up primarily of Salvadorans, even has a Web site.
The task force report said that Prince George's police have identified 50 gangs in the county, with more 400 members, and that Montgomery police have documented 20 to 22 gangs in that county, with up to 560 members and associates.
According to the report, most of the gangs in Prince George's are Hispanic or African American. The report said Hispanic gangs tend to form based on nationality or ethnicity, while African American gangs are usually composed of teenagers and young men who grew up together in the same neighborhood.
The report cited "another ominous change in Hispanic gang activity: Gang members have added intimidation or 'protection' to prostitution, while simultaneously increasing the amount of prostitution in neighborhoods."
Some young Hispanic women have been transported from New York and Langley Park to work as prostitutes, it said.