Fairfax County Police released new information last week regarding a group of gang-related arrests in October.
“On Oct. 30, we responded to a house on Hanover Avenue where a group of individuals were breaking the windows out of a house and car,” said Officer Bud Walker of the Fairfax County Police.
Six men ran from the house on Hanover Avenue in Springfield as police arrived, but were later arrested after officers chased them. When detectives started to talk to the men about their actions, they learned information that linked the men to a robbery on Oct. 28.
“The robbery on Commerce Street was part of a gang recruitment activity,” Walker said. “Some of the senior members of a gang told some junior members that they needed to rob this person to prove their loyalty to the gang."
The victim of that robbery, a 53-year-old man, was believed to have been selected "totally at random,” Walker said.
In all, 10 men and one woman were charged with more than 60 offenses, Walker said. Some of the charges were gang related, including gang participation and gang recruitment, which could carry harsher penalties.
Those arrested included Edgar Ramon Sorto, 20, Annandale, who was charged with attempted robbery, gang recruitment, two counts of gang participation, assault by mob, vehicle tampering, destruction of property and propelling a missile into a vehicle. He was later charged with statutory rape and producing child pornography after images of himself engaged in sexual activity with a minor girl were found on his cell phone, according to police.
Jose Efrain Garcia, 20, of Woodbridge, was charged with attempted robbery, gang recruitment, two counts of gang participation, assault by mob, vehicle tampering, destruction of property and propelling missile into an occupied dwelling. Lester Calderon-Alcantara, 18, of the Lincolnia-area, was charged with attempted robbery, three counts of gang participation, assault by mob, two counts of destruction of property and propelling a missile into an occupied dwelling.
Adriana Diaz Romero, 18, of Alexandria was charged with possession of stolen property, hit and run, speed to elude police and contributing to the delinquency of minor. Daniel Alves, 19, of Alexandria, was charged with participation in a gang, vehicle tampering, propelling a missile into an occupied dwelling and contributing to the delinquency of a minor.
Six minors, five boys and a girl, were also charged as a result of their participation in the gang.
GANG ACTIVITY may be growing throughout Fairfax County, but it remains a "small percentage" of the crimes committed every year, said Sgt. Ken Bresson with the Youth Services Division of the Fairfax County Police.
"Our concern is that the numbers may grow," he said. Currently, it is estimated that about 1,500 people are gang members in Fairfax County, which has a population of over one million people.
The county has organized the Gang Coordination Council, which brings together members of the community to talk about ways to prevent and reduce gang activity, said council member Bo Tumasz.
The group focuses on three separate approaches to dealing with gangs; suppression, prevention and intervention, Tumasz said.
“One of the main initiatives is to fund programs for middle school students to keep them busy after school,” he said. Between 3-5 p.m. is a time when the students are most vulnerable to being approached by gang members, especially for students whose parents are not at home.
After school sports are not currently offered at the middle school level, Tumasz said, which makes it more difficult to provide the students with safe, supervised activities. Some members of the council advocated for including some students in fourth or fifth grade in after school programs in order to protect a larger group of students.
“Some resources that were received from the Department of Justice were shifted towards programs like peer mediation or to fund school resource officer programs in schools,” he said. School resource officers are police officers who work inside schools on a daily basis and not only provide a sense of security, but allow students access to an officer they know they can trust, Tumasz said.
GROUPS LIKE Barrios Unidos have formed to talk with current gang members in the hope of getting them to leave the gang. A non-profit organization, Barrios Unidos “tries to get in with the gang members and steer them in a different direction, to get them out of that lifestyle,” Tumasz said.
Suppression of gang activity is the most difficult aspect of the council’s work.
“We can put laws in place to prosecute gang members for gang related crimes like racketeering and have them deported, but there are immigration issues that we need more money to deal with,” he said. Increased cooperation between state and local law enforcement agencies is also needed to prevent convicted gang members who have been deported from returning to the United States a few months later.
Pending legislation would require all gang-related crimes to be reported to state officials, Bresson said, regardless of how minor the offense.
"The more information we have on any crime, the more opportunities we have to act on it," he said. "It takes a few years to compile enough information to see trends or gather statistics."
The FBI currently has a task force dedicated to monitoring the activity of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, but does not have one to keep track of gang activity in general, Bresson said.