Not only in LA

May 28, 2006

They are known as the Redstone Riders, SMU-Swan Meadow University, 9 Tre Gangsta. They emulate groups from California, New York and New Jersey. They're not rap artists, though their appeal to youngsters can be as enticing.

They are street gangs accused of criminal activity, and they operate in Edgewood, Aberdeen and other areas of Harford County; gang-related crime is no longer confined to Baltimore neighborhoods or Washington's suburbs. Towns such as Salisbury, Woodlawn, Columbia and Waldorf are finding evidence of the same in their backyards. It's a problem that calls for local law enforcement to share intelligence, focus on potential recruits and investigate these groups as suspected criminal enterprises.

Why wait for suburban groups to become as entrenched as some drug gangs in Baltimore or the Latino MS-13 organization that operates in Montgomery and Prince George's counties? In fact, several jurisdictions aren't waiting and, with the help of $2 million in federal grants, are developing anti-gang units and programs across Maryland. These strategies will be profiled Thursday at a daylong summit hosted by state and federal officials.

Prosecutors in Salisbury are using an initiative that seeks tough sentences for gun crimes, known as Wicomico Exile, to target gangs involved in gun violence. They attribute spikes in assaults and robberies to gangs and say Hispanic residents are often victimized.

In Harford County, affiliates of the well-known Bloods and Crips are recruiting youngsters from ages 12 to 17, according to sheriff's office investigators. They appeal to kids who are looking for acceptance, respect or power. Prosecutors so far this year have won convictions in two gang-related murders. As recounted in court testimony, membership in the 9 Tre Gangsta gang involved a 31-second initiation beating, memorization of oaths and often criminal activity to prove one's allegiance.

Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein has made gang prosecutions a priority in his office, and when gang leaders are prosecuted in federal court, convictions and tougher sentences are more likely. That leaves lower-level members to local law enforcement officials, which is why Thursday's meeting is so important. Because this is no threat to take lightly.

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