2022 | Police & Fire

County Police Chief Marcus Jones: Growing prevalence of guns is fueling violent crime

Teens need to call police instead of trying to ‘handle’ conflicts themselves, he says

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Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones.

Photo from Montgomery County government

Montgomery County Police Chief Marcus Jones said there are a variety of factors behind the number of homicides – 14 – that have occurred so far in 2022. He’s worried about the increasing availability of guns to young people as well as planned meetings among youth on social media. And he also worries that many teens are trying to “handle” conflicts themselves, which can lead them to act out violently instead of calling authorities.

Jones discussed his concerns during an interview Tuesday morning with Bethesda Beat.

There have been 14 homicides to date as of this interview. What do you think are the factors that are contributing to the continuing violence?

There’s a few factors that are contributing first of all. I think there are things we are seeing as it relates to … drug robberies. And we’re also seeing disputes that … we often find out later [had] begun over social media. And so those are some contributing factors, plus other types of disagreements that are really causing this uptick.

Has there been more gun activity recently when compared to that of the last few years?

Oh yes. We’re seeing an uptick in the seizure of guns. We’re seeing an uptick particularly in the seizure of privately manufactured firearms, otherwise known as ghost guns. To this point we’ve seized 100 [ghost] guns as of today’s date, compared to 71 in [all of] 2021. We’ve seized somewhere in the area of a total of about 500-plus guns [this year], and this is just what we’re seizing. Our shootings have increased this year as well, and so these are the things that are concerning us.

How many of the homicides this year involved minors?

Well, when we talk about homicides involving minors, we’ve got three incidents that we’ve had that are individuals who are minors. And of those [three homicides], you actually count five individuals under the age of 18 [who were involved].

Is that an unusual number of minors?

Absolutely it is. We’ve not seen this level of homicides being committed by individuals this young. Now granted, last year we had a homicide involving a ghost gun with a 14-year-old, and this year again we have a homicide involving a 14-year-old. I’ve never seen that we’ve had these homicides committed [by youth] as young as we’ve seen.

What’s the reason for the rise in youth violence? Is it related to social isolation during the pandemic?

I don’t think that’s where we are. We’ve been back to school since the beginning of the school year. Literally we’re at the end of the school year. So for us to really rely on that as an excuse, I think is just not really opening our eyes to what’s really happening here.

What we do know is that there’s a lot of chatter that we’ve found on social media channels. There’s a lot of disputes and threats going back and forth to different groups. So that’s a problem. We’re looking at things holistically, as far as what is this one driving force. I think there’s several driving forces. I think guns have changed the mindset of some young people in our community. And this is not just happening in Montgomery County. It’s happening across the country. Guns are being used to settle disputes.

These are crimes of which we’ve been able to solve. We’re still seeing a significant number of shootings that occur, that we don’t quite know what the motive is because we haven’t arrested the suspect, and in some cases even the victims don’t cooperate. And there’s also a level of retribution among certain groups, where they decide they want to handle this themselves instead of having law enforcement handle it. And so the way they handle it is that they are now going after these very individuals they believe took shots at them, or who may have shot them.

When you say “certain groups,” are you talking about gangs?

We don’t know that it’s always gangs, because we don’t always know what the motives are. What I will say is that we have had shots fired by multiple individuals at victims, and again, when I say groups, we are grouping these cases together because these are cases where we’re having uncooperative victims. And you have some cases where you have no victims [because] nobody called to say ‘Hey I was shot at.’ These are the folks [who] I am talking about.

What are some reasons that victims wouldn’t want to call authorities?

Because they want to have this retribution themselves. And so, they’re basically [saying] ‘I will handle it.’ They don’t necessarily want law enforcement’s assistance with it. And so, again, a lot of times these are things that are handled at a different level that most people don’t understand. This is what these people do. They decide they’re going to resolve the situation in their own way. So that’s why a lot of times these are multiple shootings in different neighborhoods. Because a lot of times these shootings are a result of retribution.

In what areas are you seeing the most violent youth crime?

This is not just a Montgomery County problem. We are finding cases that are connected to other parts of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan region. So these are not just simply cases that are here in Montgomery County. We must understand that the individuals involved in this type of behavior are transient, and they can move from one area to another, which they do as a result of what is the motive behind their actions.

Do you have a message for people who haven’t cooperated with police?

We try to send that message to them all the time. We try to make sure that they understand that the best way to handle this is for us to handle the investigation in order to calm the violence and calm what’s happening in the streets. I don’t know if these individuals actually read your paper. Anytime my detectives encounter them, they are trying to communicate with them to try to get them to cooperate because we think that’s the best way to handle this. Any other way is only gonna cause more chaos.

What else can be done to prevent the violence we’re seeing?

Well, first and foremost, this is a community issue. This is a call to action. It’s community groups, it’s organizations that need to get engaged in what’s happening in our communities and engage young people in a positive manner. And it’s about parenting as well. Everybody’s got to play a part in this. …. We’ve got young people ordering ghost guns online and having them delivered to somebody’s doorstep.

You’ve mentioned social media a number of times. Do you have recommendations for parents when it comes to monitoring their children’s activities?

I don’t tell people how to parent. But it’s highly recommended that if you’ve got young people, you should be having a conversation with them about what they’re posting. And you probably should be monitoring it yourself as far as what they’re posting. So I think [parents should] understand things that can create disputes and be disruptive. Those are the things we need to avoid.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com