While the number of homicides in Montgomery County was cut in half from 2015 to 2016 according to the Montgomery County Police Department’s annual crime report, gang activity still is a concern to many in Montgomery County.
Tom Manger, the county’s police chief, said that five of the 15 homicides in 2016 were gang affiliated. When asked why, Manger didn’t really have any idea, telling reporters, “It’s anyone’s guess.”
“We are seeing a wide variety of crimes committed by gangs in Montgomery County,” John J. McCarthy, state’s attorney for Montgomery County, told the Montgomery County City Council staff on July 17. “(These) include murder, robberies, aggravated assaults, extortion, sex trafficking, drug dealing, and weapons offenses,” he continued. “Of most concern is the huge increase in gang-related homicides in the past two years compared to previous years. Since mid-2015, half of the county’s homicides—at least 15—have been gang-related; in 2011, there were no gang-related homicides, and in 2012-2014, there was only one each year.”
McCarthy believes that the gang-related crime rate has increased due to the involvement of the widely popular MS-13 gang, which has origins in El Salvador. He says that local Blood gang members as well as Hit Squad members have increased their involvement in Montgomery County as well.
The police believe that the increase in gang violence has to do with the recent recruitment of young kids into their gangs.
“The department is unaware of the gangs recruiting members as young as 9-10,” the county police department said in a Public Safety Committee update on July 17. “However, the department is aware of recruitment and/or intimidation occurring at the middle school level (ages 12-14) and anecdotal stories of gang members buying ice cream for younger children in certain neighborhoods.”
Gaithersburg has been seen a 3.8 percent increase in crime during the first quarter of 2017, as compared to statistics for the first quarter of 2016. The city has seen an increase of Part I crime, which includes homicides, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larcenies and auto thefts, by 7.5 percent.
While only a small percentage of county crime is gang activity, there are plenty of gang incidents that occur that are not reported to the police. “Gang crime is often underreported,” the committee stated in their update, “because gang members often do not report crimes committed against them from rivals or internally from their own gangs if they are ‘disciplined’ for failing to comply with the gangs’ norms and rules.”
The Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation currently has 174 validated gang members within the program today, according to the committee.
Over the past two years, gang homicide has hit a massive increase in the county. So what is the county doing to try and reduce gang violence and get back to the minimal gang activity that went on in the area just a few years ago?
“The Police Department’s Criminal Street Gang Unit (CSGU) is the primary unit responsible for targeting gang-related crime and initiating long-term, complex investigations involving the gangs,” the county police department said. “However, gang crime enforcement is not limited to just the CSGU; all officers are responsible for taking action against gang members if they are participating in criminal activity.”