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Going Against Gangs

Town Meeting slated to explore gang crime.

Area residents will have an opportunity next week to enter into a dialogue with gang crime experts, including the FBI.

Congressman Frank Wolf (R-10) has organized a town meeting at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 30, at the Seneca Ridge Middle School Auditorium in Sterling. The forum will mark the area’s first town meeting-style event dealing with the issue.

THE MOST dangerous gang in Northern Virginia is the Mara Salvatrucha 13, known better as MS-13. The FBI has estimated there are 2,500 MS-13 gang members in the greater metropolitan area, Debbie Wireman, a spokeswoman with the FBI Washington Field Office, said Monday. The FBI designated that gang as a "priority target group" in 1997.

Kraig Troxell, spokesman for the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office, said there are about 150 gang members in Loudoun County, which belong to about 20 gangs, including MS-13. The number is always fluctuating.

Wolf, the FBI, the Gang Response and Intervention Team (GRIT), the chief of the Northern Virginia Regional Gang Task Force and the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office will open the town meeting with short presentations, said Dave Carver, GRIT program manager. "This is going to be more of a dialogue, more question and answer."

GRIT’s goal is to coordinate the suppression, intervention, prevention and overall reduction of street gang activity within Loudoun County. The task force, originally called the 10th District Gang Task Force, is made up of federal, state and local police and sheriff’s departments. The FBI Washington Field Office accompanies the task force in developing intelligence and strategies. An FBI memo, dated Aug. 18, 2004, said the FBI’s Washington Field Office has identified about 22 cliques within MS-13 from Leesburg to Manassas and from Centreville to Alexandria. The gangs are primarily involved in homicides, malicious woundings, robberies and witness intimidation, the memo said.

WOLF SAID he hopes residents will leave the town meeting with a better understanding of gang aggression. "The goal of the meeting is to make area residents not only aware of the problems, but to discuss what is being done to address it, from tougher enforcement to education to intervention," he said.

Carver said the assembly is open to everyone. "If you are informed, it can help alleviate some of the fears people have. And being educated and knowing what to look for is the best thing for parents to do to protect their kids.

"It’s important to get factual information, not just what you hear on TV or rumors on the street."

The FBI is addressing the gang issue on a nationwide basis, according to Wolf’s spokesman Dan Scandling. Wolf, as chairman of the House panel that oversees the Justice Department budget, has worked to provide nearly $9 million in federal funding to deal with the threat of gang violence in Virginia.