Organized crime was once synonymous with the Mafia. Not anymore, and there's no better example of what law enforcement is up against today than the alleged criminal enterprise described in a federal indictment unsealed Monday in Baltimore. The membership of the Bloods' Tree Top Piru may differ by race, locale and ethnicity from La Cosa Nostra, but criminal activity, violence and murder are their shared pursuits. The indictment against 28 alleged Bloods members is a primer on gang culture, its origins and its prevalence in state prisons. But it also is a textbook case of federal and state law enforcement cooperation and the potential payoff in combating crime in Maryland.
More than 10 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies as well as the Maryland prison system were involved in investigating this case. Drug trafficking, robbery, witness intimidation and obstruction of justice were all part of it, and five murders are ascribed to the accused, according to the federal charges brought by Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. attorney for Maryland. Several of the alleged gang members are known to city prosecutors, and State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy rightly noted that no area of the state is exempt from gang influence and crime.
The indictment follows the alleged exploits of a local outpost of the California-based Bloods gang on the street and behind state prison walls. It's most alarming in that it reflects the extent of gang recruitment and activity within Maryland prisons and the need for vigorous gang prevention programs and anti-gang strategies in correction institutions, and not just those in Baltimore.
The use of cell phones in perpetrating criminal activity from behind prison walls raises again the issue of contraband that may too freely pass through the prison complexes in Hagerstown, Jessup and the city. But prison officials are well aware of their menacing influence; last year, they confiscated 395 cell phones as a result of stepped-up enforcement in a system with 23,000 inmates, 11,000 employees and thousands of weekly visitors.
Efforts to work with local, state and federal law enforcement agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have been ongoing, according to prison officials seeking to increase the sharing of intelligence information. By state officials' estimate, there are 2,600 gang members within the Maryland prison system. These affiliations must be aggressively monitored and the relationships discouraged through prison policies such as moving gang members and isolating key players in a relentless effort to break up gang activity and deter gang-related crime.