Tired of watching the unstemmed blood flowing from Edgewood? So too are a contingent of elected officials who let loose this week with a flood of proposed legislation, millions of dollars in federal funding and renewed resolve to wash Edgewood and Harford County clean of its gang infestation.
But can this latest attempt to flush out Edgewood’s growing number of Bloods and Crips, of which the state now says there are more than 300 members in Harford County, succeed where so many others have failed (see: Harford County Sheriff’s Office Southern Precinct, Guardian Angels patrol, Community Watch program, State Police Activity League Center, etc)?
A series of eight separate bills introduced within the last week by state Sen. Nancy Jacobs aim to hit gangs where it hurts – seizing their property, charging their young members as adults rather than juveniles and stretching out the sentences of gang members convicted of crimes – while a new Gang Elimination Task Force, created with nearly $3 million in federal funding, was also announced this week.
The tone of the week was set early when, in his State of the County address to the Harford County Council on Tuesday, Harford County Executive David Craig used his strongest language to date, condemning gangs and vowing to clean up gangs in Edgewood and beyond.
1) Public Safety – “Ensuring a Safe Harford” – We will work to ensure Harford County’s public safety providers have the necessary tools and training to meet the County’s growing demand for emergency services in the 21st century.
With this in mind, law enforcement and the community must work diligently and cooperatively to reduce crime, the proliferation of gang membership and illegal drug activities in our neighborhoods.
Foremost among them is Edgewood. We must stop the violence, the bloodshed, the killing of our citizens, particularly our youth, in our streets and neighborhoods. For if we fail in Edgewood, all of Harford fails. We are all part of the same greater community – Harford County.
It is unfortunate that a small number of despicable criminals are ruining the lives of law abiding citizens in Edgewood and other areas in our county.
Let me make this perfectly clear, criminals are not welcome in Harford County and we will not stop, we will not be deterred and we will not fail in our efforts to rid the county of this cancer.
About a week prior, on Jan. 25, Craig appeared with Congressman C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, Governor Martin O’Malley, Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane and County Councilman Dion Guthrie at the Edgewood Community and Recreation Center, just a few blocks away from Ground Zero Gangland, to unveil a new Gang Elimination Task Force.
The Task Force, funded by $2.8 million in federal dollars will work with local communities to identify gang members, curb gang recruitment and assist prosecutors and law enforcement officials in the arrest and prosecution of offenders.
In addition, the Task Force will serve as a comprehensive database for all gang-related intelligence gathered by law enforcement entities across many states along the East Coast. The information will be shared between authorities in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, the District of Columbia and North Carolina. The Task Force will also have access to national real-time intelligence that tracks critical information about gang members across the entire country.
“Gang violence is not limited to individual areas; it is a pervasive problem that knows no state borders”, Craig said at the event.
Sen. Jacobs, who has been trying each of the last few years to make life harder for gang members by introducing new legislation in Annapolis, has seen her efforts undermined by fellow lawmakers who have taken the bite out of her bills. Past experience aside, that didn’t stop Jacobs from introducing a eight different gang-related bills into the Maryland General Assembly within the last week.
Here’s a rundown of each of Jacobs’ bills with a short synopsis:
SENATE BILL 633: Criminal Law – Property Used in Gang Activity – Seizure and Forfeiture
Authorizing the seizure of specified property used or intended for use in connection with criminal gang activity; establishing procedures to be followed for the forfeiture of specified property; etc.
SENATE BILL 634: Criminal Law – Gang Activity – Jurisdiction over Juvenile Offenders
Excluding from the jurisdiction of juvenile court a child at least 16 years old who is alleged to have committed, as a member of a criminal gang, a specified act that would be a crime if committed by an adult; and providing for the application of the Act.
SENATE BILL 635: Real Property – Criminal Gangs – Abatement of Nuisance
Establishing that the use of property by members of a criminal gang in the furtherance of specified criminal gang activity is a nuisance that may be the subject of an action for abatement.
SENATE BILL 636: Criminal Law – Definition of “Criminal Gang”
Altering the definition of “criminal gang” to include any association of 3 or more persons meeting specified criteria.
SENATE BILL 637: Criminal Law – Criminal Gang Participation – Sentencing
Altering a provision of law to require that a specified sentence for a violation of the prohibition against participation in a criminal gang under specified conditions be separate from and consecutive to a sentence for the underlying crime.
SENATE BILL 639: Courts – Evidence – Existence of or Membership in a Criminal Gang
Establishing that specified evidence is probative of the existence of or membership in a criminal gang; and authorizing the admissibility of specified evidence in a civil or criminal proceeding to prove the existence of or membership in a criminal gang.
SENATE BILL 640: Criminal Law – Criminal Gangs – Underlying Crime
Altering the definition of “underlying crime” for purposes of specified criminal gang offenses to add misdemeanor assaults, malicious destruction, human trafficking, receiving earnings of a prostitute, and betting, wagering, and gambling.
SENATE BILL 641: Criminal Gang Activity – Financial Transactions – Penalty
Prohibiting a person from receiving specified proceeds and using or investing $10,000 or more of those proceeds in the acquisition of specified property or establishment or operation of a criminal gang; prohibiting a person from directly acquiring, maintaining an interest in, or asserting control of a criminal gang through a pattern of criminal gang activity; prohibiting a person from engaging in a money transmission with specified proceeds; establishing specified penalties; etc.
In brief, the Jacobs bills would essentially:
– Prohibit people from knowingly receiving proceeds or profit from someone associated with criminal gang activity.
– Alter the definition of a criminal gang so its members can still be considered to have an ongoing association with the gang even while in court.
– Add offenses like malicious destruction, prostitution, misdemeanor second degree assault and gambling to the list of underlying crimes for criminal gang offenses.
– Add the newly created gang statue to the list of offenses for which a juvenile court does not have automatic jurisdiction over. So, juveniles 16 years of age or older would be considered adults first for the purposes of arrest and prosecution before they are considered for waiver to be tried as a juvenile.
– Change the sentencing guidelines from concurrent to consecutive.
– Expand the definition of a gang to include a common name, insignia, flag or means of recognition; common identifying hand or body signs, signals or codes; common identifying mode, style or color or dress; identifying tattoo or body marking; qualification or characteristic of membership such as age or ethnicity; creed or belief; overt or covert organization or command structural; de facto claim of territory or jurisdiction; initiation rituals; concentration or specialty of criminal activity; and method of operation or criminal enterprise.
– Give prosecutors the ability to charge property owners who knowingly allow gangs to use their property for the purposes of participating in criminal activity.
And for those who live in comfortable homes far, far away from bloodstained Edgewood and still doubt that gangs have migrated out of inner-city Baltimore and into bucolic Harford County, consider the following state report on gangs in Maryland, which indicates there may be more than 300 gang members in Harford County, about two-thirds of which are Bloods and the remaining one-third are Crips.
Harford County is located northeast of Baltimore City and is immediately adjacent to Baltimore and Cecil counties. According to the 2000 census, the population is approximately 218,000 in primarily suburban and rural areas. Interstate 95 and Route 40 run through the county providing easy access for gangs and drug trafficking from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. Most gang activity is concentrated in less expensive, affordable housing areas along the Route 40 corridor in Edgewood, Aberdeen, and Havre de Grace.
The majority of street gangs is associated with either the Bloods or the Crips and is African American. Both the Bloods and the Crips are organized in two or three sets. Approximately 200+ total members of the Bloods and 90+ members of the Crips are in Harford County. A few local gangs are not associated with either the Bloods or Crips and have limited membership.
Gang membership is very fluid, with a constant flow of individuals both joining and leaving the gang, especially as gang members move in and out of neighborhoods. The total amount of gang crime is probably modest and includes local drug sales, robbery and burglary, and assaults within and between gang members. The Bloods and Crips are typically competitive, rival gangs whose interactions often result in violence. Often, those trying to be accepted as members are most violent. Initiation into a gang often requires new members to commit a crime to prove that they are not cops and to demonstrate their commitment to the gang. New members may also be beaten to demonstrate their courage and required to bring something of value to the gang. In December 2004, a Harford County cab driver, Derald Howard Guess, was killed. According to a January 16, 2005 Baltimore Sun article, police have tied the killing to a possible gang-initiation rite. Gangs have been associated with several other murders and shootings in the County.
In the housing complexes where these gangs are active, there is considerable evidence of links with Blood and Crips members from New Jersey, New York, and Baltimore. Some families move from NJ/NY to get away from gang activity. Unfortunately, they end up bringing youth who identify themselves with the gangs to Harford County. Other gang members joined the gangs while they were in the Harford County detention center and then continued their gang involvement when they were released. While there are links with gangs from outside Harford County, the gangs are primarily local youth and their criminal activity is locally controlled.
The Latino population in the county is very low, but there are Latinos working in construction and landscape crews. Police are concerned that this might enable Latino gangs, especially Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), to gain a foothold in the county, but there is no evidence of this as of yet.
A small number of Caucasians are active in Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMG), especially the Hell’s Angels. Hells’ Angels and the Pagans, as well as non-OMG motorcycle gangs, travel through and stop in Harford County at restaurants or bars. Hell’s Angels are trying to establish their dominance in the area and this is leading to conflict with the Pagans. This is an emerging threat in Harford County. The greatest concerns are a possible emergence of a methamphetamine problem or violence growing out of the competition between the Hell’s Angels and the Pagans.
Harford County public schools have worked hard to limit gang involvement and gang conflict in the schools. A dress code was introduced to help eliminate the wearing of gang colors or symbols. If there are any incidents that are gang related, school authorities respond promptly and will use school suspensions, if necessary.
If a parent is concerned about a child who shows signs of potentially being involved with gangs, the first resource is the child’s school counselor or pupil personnel worker. For a list of school telephone numbers, please consult list of schools.