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Governor Pledges Help in Fighting Gangs

Gov. Mark Warner (D) chose Herndon as the place to announce his four-pronged attack on gangs Monday afternoon.

Standing on the amphitheater stage behind the Municipal Building, flanked by law enforcement officers from all over Northern Virginia and various elected officials, Warner unveiled his proposal to create a roving gang strike force, to hire three new assistant commonwealth attorneys dedicated to gang prosecutions, to provide additional training to school resource officers and probation officers, and to direct more funds to youth programs aimed at prevention. In all, the governor's plan would require an additional $700,000 in funding from the recently approved state budget.

"Despite our best efforts, clearly more can be done," Warner said of attempts to rid Virginia of gangs. "I wish we could say there is a silver bullet …. We are committed to eradicating gangs."

HERNDON POLICE CHIEF Toussaint Summers Jr., head of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force — formerly known as the 10th District Gang Task Force — was cautiously optimistic after listening to the governor.

"More is better. If we have more resources, as long as they are not sitting on the shelf, it can only make things better," he said.

Warner still has to get the General Assembly to agree to amend the budget to include $300,000 for the strike force, which will be made up of at least 12 special agents and state troops who can be deployed anywhere in the state to assist local law enforcement agencies and is expected to be operational come June 1, and $400,000 to hire the new attorneys.

The Governor's Office for Substance Abuse Prevention will be the funding source, about $1 million, youth programs, including eight mentoring programs through the Intergenerational Protect and Respect program, and will provide the additional training, a program called Gang Resistance Education and Training, for the officers.

Warner also tried to enlist the help of parents, "There is nothing that replaces an active parent," he said.

Furthermore, last week, U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf (R-10) announced an additional $500,000 in federal funding was being allocated to help stem the gang violence in Northern and Northwest Virginia, bringing the total federal funding to the state to more that $2.6 million in the past 18 months to fight gangs. [See related story, page 12.] The Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force, which includes law enforcement agencies from Fairfax, Loudoun, Arlington and Prince William counties, the towns of Manassas, Manassas Park, Herndon, Vienna and Leesburg, and the cities of Falls Church, Fairfax and Alexandria, will receive $350,000 of the additional monies. The Northwest Regional Drug Task Force, which is made up law enforcement officials in the Shenandoah Valley area, will receive $150,000.

"There will be plenty of resources at the federal level," Wolf assured those present to hear the governor's announcement.