Balto. Co. uses grant to form anti-gang unit

Goal is to disrupt criminal activity and prevent the spread of such groups


Baltimore County police say gangs are not a major problem in the county, but a unit is being formed to prevent what they describe as a growing threat.

With a $307,700 grant, the department is creating a Gang Enforcement Team. Police say the initial, three-member team will seek to disrupt gang activity and help prevent the spread of the groups in the county.

"What we don't want happening is that we wake up one morning and realize we have a gang problem in Baltimore County," said county police Chief Terrence B. Sheridan.

According to the grant proposal by the county police, the department sees the national rise of the MS-13 gang and the connection of criminal gangs to international terrorism as a potential threat to the county.

"Baltimore County is not immune to this internal domestic threat," the grant proposal states. "Similar to many other communities, there has been an increase in criminal gang activity within our borders."

The county council approved the grant Monday, which includes federal dollars and about $94,000 of county money.

County police officials define a gang as three or more individuals who form an alliance for a common purpose and individually or collectively engage in criminal activity. Capt. Roman Zaryk of the Baltimore County Police Department, who prepared the grant proposal, said about 30 gangs, under that definition, are in the county.

"We're dealing more with wannabes," Zaryk said. "The West Coast Bloods and Crips are not here."

Most police contact with gang members has been in the Woodlawn, Franklin and Essex police precincts, police say.

Zaryk recently warned County Council members that violent and mobile gangs such as MS-13 are active in the Washington area. "We want to prevent that from becoming an issue in our borders," he told the council members.

Baltimore County Councilman Stephen G. Samuel Moxley said he sees the need to prevent gangs from getting a foothold in the county.

"I don't want people to perceive this as, `Oh my God, we have gangs all of a sudden,'" Moxley said. "It's better to have [police] prepared ahead of time and have a plan in place than learn by the seat of your pants."

Some of the grant would be used to pay for an assistant state's attorney who would be specifically assigned to the prosecution of criminal gang members. The team's performance would be measured by such factors as the number of criminal gang members arrests, the number of criminal gang members identified and the number of prosecutable cases presented to the state's attorney's office.

Maryland State Police Lt. Terry Katz has worked for more than three decades to prevent the spread of bike and street gangs. He said he works closely with the county police, and he commended the agency for taking preventive measures.

"In many jurisdictions, there's a denial problem," Katz said. "You don't want to say you have gangs."

He said working in a coordinated manner can be effective in battling the spread of gangs, but he added that "unfortunately, there will always be gangs because there are always going to be people who will be attracted to that gangster lifestyle."

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