Montgomery County Officials Push for ‘Aggressive and Strategic’ Response to Ongoing Gang Violence

Montgomery County Officials Push for ‘Aggressive and Strategic’ Response to Ongoing Gang Violence

Leggett requests $840,000 increase in funding for police department and state's attorney's office

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Crime tape surrounded a grassy area near miniature train tracks in Wheaton Regional Park the week a body was found. Police have not confirmed where in the park officers found the body.

Joe Zimmermann

With gang-related violence rising in Montgomery County, officials say they must change how they deal with criminal groups to curb violence and prevent further crime.

“With the sheer level of violence we’re seeing, sitting back and doing what we were doing before is not an acceptable action,” State’s Attorney John McCarthy told Bethesda Beat.

In a letter to County Council President Roger Berliner last week, County Executive Ike Leggett requested $843,000 in supplemental funding to the county’s police department and state’s attorney’s office. Leggett wrote that the county needs “enhanced short-term and long-term strategies” to combat the “dangerous, and sometimes deadly” gang activity in the area.

“It has become clear that additional resources are necessary to tackle this issue,” Leggett wrote. “The funding requested in this supplemental appropriation will allow the Department of Police and the State’s Attorney’s Office to immediately ramp up suppression efforts for gang activity.”

Capt. Paul Liquorie, who heads the Special Investigations Division of the police department, said recent cases of gang-related crimes are part of a larger problem in the area. He said has seen “a definite spike” in gang activity since the summer of 2015.

In the span of two days this month, police found the bodies of two men in county parks after they died in gang killings.

The man found Sept. 5 in Wheaton Regional Park, who has not yet been identified, likely died between December and March, authorities said. He had been decapitated and dismembered.

Cristopher Alfredo Funes Guerra, 20, from Silver Spring, was reported missing Sept. 3. A hiker found his body in a stream near Long Branch-Alriss Community Park on Sept. 6.

Six suspected MS-13 members, including at least three men from the county, are facing murder charges in Frederick County for the death of a Silver Spring man whose body was found north of Frederick in June.

“The more recent cases—the body found in Frederick, the two recent homicides that are ongoing here in Montgomery County—show that this is a continuing issue,” Liquorie said. “There’s a recognition that, not only do we have to put some more resources on it, but we have to obviously do something a little different.”

The additional requested funding would dedicate $596,920 to the police department for a new section in the Criminal Gang Unit and $246,773 to enhance the gang unit in the state’s attorney’s office.

Liquorie said the funding would let police dedicate more manpower to build up larger cases against groups of gang members while also bringing in more analysts to collect information on the ground.

McCarthy said the funding for the state’s attorney’s office would let a team of his best lawyers take a “more aggressive and strategic approach to targeting gangs and gang leaderships.” He said they would use “creative” methods, like mining social media, to focus on the most violent groups and the people who run them.

While officials are concerned about MS-13, an international gang with roots in El Salvador and a growing regional presence, Liquorie saidseveral other gangs—including minor “neighborhood crews”—commit violent crimes.

Members of the gang Hittsquad participated in setting up a fatal Feb. 10 shooting on Hawk Run Terrace in Montgomery Village, and one suspect in the June 5 killing of two Germantown teens the day before their graduation is “a validated Latin King member,” Liquorie said.

Working with county police, the U.S. attorney’s offices in Maryland and Virginia has indicted 21 members of MS-13 for killings and other violent crimes in the area in the past two years, Liquorie said.

There have been 20 homicides connected to gangs in that time in the county, McCarthy said.

County Council member Marc Elrich, who is chairman of the Public Safety Committee, said the council is “pretty responsive overall to public safety requests” and would likely approve the request for supplemental funding. The council will vote on the request in the coming weeks.

“No one believes we can suppress our way out of these problems,” Elrich said, noting the county also would focus on addressing the social side and keeping kids out of gangs through efforts by the recreation and health and human services departments.

In the meantime, he said, money for more law enforcement is necessary.

“That’s something no one wants to go on the cheap side about,” he said. “If we really think we need to do more, we’re not going to sit there and think, ‘Do we really need to do it?’ I think we know we need to make these investments.”

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