Law enforcement authorities in Baltimore said yesterday that the face of gang activity has been evolving this year in the city, with more cases involving criminals who identify themselves as belonging to gangs with a national reputation.
City police suspect that local "crews" - made up mostly of drug dealers who typically name their organizations after their neighborhoods - are now identifying themselves as members of more well-known gangs, seeking to boost their street credibility with names such as the Bloods and the Crips. So far, police say, they're not seeing a major influx of gang members from other parts of the country.
"It's not as if there's a coming together of all these groups to be a cohesive, stronger criminal organization," said Deputy Police Commissioner Marcus Brown. "It's sort of the flavor of the week to say that you're a Blood. ... I think now we're seeing the same players who were once calling themselves Milton and Biddle [a neighborhood crew], trying to affiliate with the Blood and Crip gangs."
This year, police and prosecutors have traced several violent incidents to alleged gang activity by young men who say they belong to the Bloods or the Crips, two street gangs that originated in Los Angeles, or to local crews that claim to have ties to such gangs. In many cases, the suspects are juveniles.
Some serious incidents include:
A 14-year-old boy who authorities say tried to kill a young man in a daytime shooting in West Baltimore early this year as part of a gang turf war. The alleged shooter belonged to a west-side gang known as "Dip Set Purple City" - a subset of the Bloods gang that has been recruiting children as young as 10 years old and has committed a slew of violent robberies this year, a prosecutor said in court yesterday. A city judge will determine next month whether the boy will be tried as an adult.
Terrance Randolph, 19, who was beaten, bound and set on fire in a West Baltimore alley April 12, according to city police and prosecutors. Police have arrested a woman in the case, and are seeking Shamvoy Smith, a reputed Bloods gang leader who is also wanted in California on a robbery warrant. City police say they consider Smith to be one of Baltimore's top-five most wanted fugitives.
An April 28 armed robbery at the Inner Harbor. About 20 young men approached four high school-aged boys on a field trip from New Jersey and robbed them of cash and cell phones, according to police charging documents and prosecutors.
One of the suspects allegedly asked the boys: "Do you know any Bloods?" court papers show. Several suspects - including one with a red rag in his pocket that police say identified him as a gang member or "want-to-be" gang member - were caught and charged that afternoon, court papers show. But prosecutors say they might have to drop the case in court today because the victims won't return to Maryland to assist the prosecution.
A spate of armed robberies and other violent incidents this year can be traced to gang initiation rites, such as robbing people of cell phones in order to gain entry into a gang, police and prosecutors say. Gangs have used cell phones to store illegal drugs, prosecutors have found.
And prosecutors are dealing with a number of cases that they believe involve gang-on-gang violence between purported members of Bloods and Crips. There is also a case where a man, who identified himself as a Blood from one city neighborhood, was assaulted by other self-identifying Bloods in another neighborhood, according to city prosecutors.
"It is an emerging problem," said Margaret T. Burns, a spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office. "We know we have criminal cases where there are allegations of gang activity, and those cases have been flagged for vigorous prosecution."
Burns said that the city state's attorney's office is working with other law enforcement agencies to develop anti-gang initiatives.
An official who helps run the city jail system said authorities have been dealing with local neighborhood gang recruiting behind bars for some time but are not yet at the point where they are immediately segregating individuals who identify themselves as gang members.
The official, Benjamin F. Brown, assistant commissioner of the Division of Pretrial Detention and Services, said officials are collecting intelligence on gangs in jail. The intelligence includes taking pictures of suspects' gang tattoos.
"We are seeing indications of individuals making claims to being members of other than the local gangs," Brown said. "More people are claiming that they are."
In the city's juvenile justice system, youths in rival gangs generally are separated within a center, or moved to other facilities, in order to cut down on problems while they are incarcerated, according to a state Department of Juvenile Services spokesman.
Staff training sessions focused on how to deal with gang activity are regularly held, including one scheduled for tomorrow, the spokesman said.