DATE: August 6, 2004
Bob's Weekly Report: Combating Gangs at the National Level
Headlines as of late have reflected a growing gang problem particularly in Northern Virginia, but rapidly spreading to the Shenandoah Valley, Roanoke, Lynchburg and other parts of the state.
Gangs are not just Virginia's problem. The assistant director in charge of the FBI's Washington field office, in commenting about the emerging gang threat said, "This is beyond a regional problem. It is in fact a national problem." According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, at last count there were more than 24,500 different youth gangs around the country, and more than 772,500 teens and young adults were members of gangs.
Considering the national nature of the problem the House recently responded with a national approach, when we overwhelmingly approved, with my strong support, the creation of a national gang intelligence center that will be run by the FBI and serve as a clearinghouse for information on gang activity across the country. The center effectively centralizes the federal effort to combat the growing problem of gang violence. One of the critical lessons we have learned in the aftermath of 9/11 is that law enforcement turf battles and lack of intelligence sharing are recipes for disaster, which is why it is imperative that local, state and national law enforcement be operating from the same page when it comes to countering the gang threat. Funding for the gang center, consisting of $10 million, was included in the annual Justice Department spending bill.
There has also been a growing recognition of the gang problem specifically in Virginia. Recently, Attorney General Kilgore announced that the State had completed a survey of gangs, which found, among other things, that one Northern Virginia community had identified at least 80 gangs. The findings are currently being shared with local law enforcement, and the full report is expected to be released publicly this September.
Recent news reports have pointed specifically to MS-13, a notoriously violent national Hispanic gang, which is gaining a foothold throughout Virginia, notably in Northern Virginia but also in the Shenandoah Valley. The gang has claimed responsibility for an array of violent activities including shootings, rapes and machete attacks. There have been at least two gang related murders in the Shenandoah Valley in the past year.
Also troubling is the correlation between the spread of gangs and the proliferation of illegal drugs. Methamphetamine, or Meth, is now one of the most frequently investigated drug in Staunton. Investigators estimate that it accounts for about 75 percent of drug cases in Augusta County, and believe that gang members moved more than 9,000 grams of the drug in the area during a two-year period. Similar statistics have been reported in Shenandoah and Rockingham Counties.
Acknowledging the reality that gangs are no longer limited solely to urban areas, and are in fact an issue of growing national concern, Congress has been proactive in our response. Our children and our communities deserve nothing less.