Sheriff Announces Plan for Dealing with the Emerging Gang Influence in Harford County

(Harford County, MD) — Sheriff R. Thomas Golding announced today a comprehensive plan to deal with the emerging gang influence in Harford County. The plan announced jointly with and which has the full support of Harford County Executive James M. Harkins, and the members of the Harford County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (HCCJCC), details a multi-tiered response designed to have an immediate impact on gangs allowing for time to develop long range plans.

Sheriff Golding and detectives from the Sheriff’s Office Intelligence Unit met with members of Harford County Government, and the HCCJCC on January 11, 2005 to provide an insight into the history and development of gangs in our communities. Golding explained detectives began their investigation into gang activity in January 2004, when law enforcement patrols, investigations and data analysis determined the emergence of gangs along the Route 40 corridor. “Although these gangs named themselves after the LA based Crips and Bloods there doesn’t appear to be a direct organizational link to these groups,” Golding said. Golding also noted, that gang members might have affiliations with more than one-gang which is atypical for most gangs under investigation. Prior to this, Harford County had experienced little gang activity, and that which was found was described as loose affiliations with no purpose or structure, Golding said.

Golding explained his plan is designed to implement strategies to investigate and begin the dismantling of gangs. But for it to be successful, it must involve everyone. “Police cannot do the job alone,” Golding said. “We need the support of every aspect of the community if we are to be successful.” Golding says this means everyone has a stake in the plan’s outcome. Prosecutors, government and elected officials, the Board of Education, youth service organizations, Social Services, and Juvenile Justice, must all play an active role. These individuals are key as we seek to strengthen existing laws, develop prosecution and investigative strategies, and work to create youth oriented gang prevention programs. Golding says one of the biggest components of the plan is the involvement of the community. “Public education and outreach is essential for the community to be informed and have the ability to come together in helping us keep their communities safe, “ Golding said.

Golding explained that detectives have known for some time these gangs were beginning to organize but developing the intelligence and the means to infiltrate them takes time. “We’ve been working very hard at developing our own structure and investigative responses so that as they develop their own structure, we are developing ours. In response to this situation, the Sheriff’s Office, is working in cooperation with local, state, and federal agencies toward resolution of several criminal investigations currently underway into gang related crime. Additionally, continued investigations are underway to identify and dismantle these and other similar groups operating in Harford County. Paralleling these efforts will be the establishment of a centralized, integrated intelligence and information apparatus.

Sheriff Golding further tasked his Intelligence Unit with devising a plan for dealing with the rising gang culture. This plan addresses five strategies to include investigation, intelligence, enforcement, training, and public education and outreach. Golding recognized this plan must not only have an immediate impact but must set in motion plans for long-term effects. Further it must prioritize what must be done and include every component of the community if the plan is to succeed.

The initiative will first look at prioritizing gang related issues. Several investigations underway must be resolved and intelligence must be used to specifically define the membership and structure of these gangs. Once accomplished, investigators will identify the specific crimes related to the organization. In addition, the investigative team will identify additional street gangs and criminal enterprises. This will help to ensure that the vacuum created from the dismantling of one organization does not give rise to the emergence of others.

Investigations must have oversight and therefore investigations will be centralized to the Sheriff’s Office, Special Investigations Division, and Criminal Intelligence Unit. The unit has an already established database and is able to serve as the centralized information clearinghouse for county law enforcement, and is in the best position to ensure the continuity and integrity of the numerous multi-jurisdictional investigations relating to this case. The Sheriff’s Office Criminal Intelligence Unit will serve as the information hub for these investigations. An immediate priority is the establishment of information conduits within Sheriff’s Office divisions and specialty units. This will provide a consistent flow of information to the Criminal Intelligence Unit and facilitate the dissemination of intelligence throughout the agency. Liaisons are already in place with state, local, and federal resources.

Detectives from the Sheriff’s Office Intelligence and Narcotics Units will serve as the core investigative team along with local law enforcement. The Maryland State Police Gang Unit will also supply the team with two investigators. This will ensure that resources are focused into a single, centralized investigation, and provide coordinated manpower.

Intelligence and Criminal analysts from the Sheriff’s Office as well as a special agent from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are providing direct support to the investigation. In addition, the team will continue to utilize their Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and FBI contacts from the SAFE-STREETS program to levy federal firearms charges and support the operation if it should expand beyond the Maryland border. The State Police and federal authorities have offered technical support equipment deemed necessary by the investigative team.

Both the Harford County State Attorney’s Office and the United States Attorney’s Office are providing prosecutorial support. The Sheriff is also working the with States Attorney’s Office and Harford County Law office to review legislation and identify laws already on the books which may offer a long term solution to the gang problem.

The second priority of this initiative is to establish similar contacts with local law enforcement agencies to include the Aberdeen, Bel Air, and the Havre de Grace Police Departments. This will establish formalized avenues for future information exchange. It is recommended that additional intelligence and communication networks be established between investigators and other public safety partners.

A direct action unit will serve as the primary enforcement arm for the investigation team. This specially selected group consisting of a Corporal and three Deputies (DFC) will be attached to the HCSO Special Operations Division’s Community Action Response Team – doubling their staffing from four to eight and overseen by a Captain. Since the majority of their actions will be guided by the investigation, this element will be a dedicated and flexible entity able to be rapidly contacted and deployed. Criminal Patrol Deputies have always served as the backbone of the Office. Patrol should continue to be included in all aspects of intelligence gathering and enforcement efforts.

It is recommended that training be a priority for Sheriff’s Office personnel assigned to various gang suppression duties. These individuals will not only serve as formal and informal gang resources in their specific units but will also develop the credentials needed for expert testimony. The Criminal Intelligence Unit is exploring a variety of gang education courses offered by Federal, State and local experts. The Montgomery County and Prince George County Police Department’s Gang Units have offered to field train with members of the Sheriff’s Office in gang investigation and suppression.

The final priority of the Sheriff’s plan involves outreach and education. The goal of outreach is to foster a productive working relationship between public safety, public service, government and community leaders, and local organizations in order to address the emergence of street gangs. Open communications from the onset that clearly define the operation’s goals will serve to clarify priorities and give citizen’s a sense of ownership. This incorporated with a program of gang recognition and information training will help to alleviate anxiety, forge partnerships, and improve quality of life.

Since gang indoctrination generally begins at an early age, the Harford County Board of Education is an integral part of this initiative. The Board of Education’s security and educational staff is key to early gang identification and intervention. Other youth oriented entities such as the Boys and Girls Club, the Police Athletic League, and the Delinquency Prevention Policy Board will also play a major role in gang suppression. These groups, coupled with the support of key government officials, community associations, and local grass roots organizations will provide the foundation for outreach efforts. Likewise, government employees working in the field will be trained in recognizing signs of gang activity and have access to report this to the Sheriff’s Office Intelligence Unit. Community policing officers will be working with landlords and property managers to identify gang activity and to quickly erase graffiti painted on properties by gang members.

Golding says he his optimistic about the plan. “Gangs are just emerging in our County and want to rule by intimidation. Working together and implementing this plan is critical if we are to deter their continued development and reduce the likelihood of violence and injury in our communities.” Golding said.

Press Release

January 13, 2005