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More than 300 local and national gang experts, elected officials, law enforcement officers and youth advocates will be in Silver Spring during the next three days to participate in a regional conference to prevent and eliminate gang activity in the metro D.C. area
The meeting, sponsored by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, includes workshops such as trends in the national capital region, social media and gangs, and prevention and recovery.
In advance of the conference, 16 law enforcement agencies from around the region collected information on criminal gang activity in their jurisdictions in the first half of 2012.
Drug offenses were the main criminal gang activity in nearly half of the reported crimes. More than 30 percent of the departments reported graffiti and vandalism as the major criminal activity by gangs; simple assault and larceny were also noted.
Or, as Ray Colgan with the Northern Virginia Region Gang Task Force put it, "Wherever the money is, the gangs follow."
The least frequent criminal activities of gangs in the national capital region, with less than 10 known incidents, were cases of homicide, rape, arson and sexual assault.
Part of the challenge in fighting the gang-related crime that does occur has to do with the different standards across jurisdictions. For example, in D.C., a group of six or more people is required for a group to be considered a criminal gang. That number is five or more people according to the federal government, while Maryland and Virginia only need three or more people to constitute a gang.
Prosecution also varies among jurisdictions, as do the gangs themselves according to the type of criminal activities they choose to pursue. The Washington region's well integrated public transit system, which crosses many of those jurisdictions, also provides a high degree of mobility for gang members, COG notes.
"What affects us in Prince George's County affects Montgomery County, Washington D.C. and vice versa," says Prince George's Police Chief Mark McGaw.
Conference attendees are hoping to address the need for multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional coordination on gang violence — as well as other barriers to gang crime enforcement — at this week's conference.
"We have the right people in the room — we've got police, we've got social workers, we've got people from the schools," says Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger.