Manassas Journal Messenger | Ganging up

It should surprise no one that local law enforcement agencies in Northern Virginia have teamed up to fight the increasing threat of gang-related crime.

The presence of gangs in the Washington, D.C., suburbs is no secret as this type of activity has spread across the country and is not confined simply to the inner cities. The formation of gangs has accompanied the growth of Northern Virginia’s three major counties. The formation of a law enforcement task force is designed to counter the perception that gang activity can go largely unnoticed in the suburbs, away from the city streets.

Area police and prosecutors have linked a growing number of assaults, shootings, car thefts and drug dealings to gang activity, from the streets of Arlington to the Prince William suburban communities. When crimes occur with greater frequency in the suburbs, residents take notice. “We will prosecute everyone who tries to destroy the quality of life in this community,” Paul McNutly, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District, told the Associated Press this week.

Fighting crime across local borders begins with communication.

Law enforcement officers are almost always overworked in large jurisdictions like those in Northern Virginia. Officers are constantly busy handling the big cases along with the day-to-day crime in addition to helping the occasional cat out of a tree.

While departments in Prince William, Manassas and Manassas Park track gang crimes through a regional data base, the current task force includes a tangible headquarters in Herndon. There will even be a Prince William County detective tasked with helping coordinate cooperation with other area jurisdictions.

Rep. Frank Wolf, R-10th District, has secured $500,000 to help with gang interdiction and is promising more in the next federal budget. Commenting on the federal funding, Wolf said that the money was to help “fight domestic terrorism.”

That’s a strong statement, but not too far off the mark when considering what some neighborhoods go through when gang activity goes unchecked.

When speaking of terrorism, one of the biggest faults that led to the nation’s biggest terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, was the lack of communication between various U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The best efforts of these agencies amounted to very little when the walls separating them blocked their collective vision.

This consortium of three Northern Virginia counties and four cities is a positive step in improving the communication between jurisdictions. Crime, especially crimes associated with gangs, often knows no boundary. Tracking crimes on a regional basis will help law enforcement in arresting and prosecuting those taking part in gang violence.

This type of approach has worked well in fighting drugs and it’s a good bet that in a few years this regional approach will allow Northern Virginia to make strides in efforts to curb gang violence.

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